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“There’s a lack of clarity around the government’s legislation for large-scale artwork,” says a guy in a grey tracksuit and a black balaclava.

The representative of the artists’ collective Subset was down the back of a room, last Friday afternoon at the Mansion House, where street artists, councillors and council officials gathered to discuss the future of street art in the city.

Subset members had met with the council before, but felt they’d reached a stalemate when it came to a framework for street art, the masked man said. And at the Mansion House they seemed deadlocked too.

John Downey, a planning officer for the council who was there, said artists had to get planning permission to put up murals – unless they had a contract with a local authority.

But Subset man said the group had gotten pro-bono legal advice that no planning permission was needed.

City planner Mary Conway insisted that any proposal for a structure that changes its appearance needs planning permission.

“But I do understand the importance of street art, for social discourse, and sometimes artists need to act immediately, and can’t wait around,” she said.

Blending In

“The primary driving force [of art] is freedom of expression,” said the masked man from Subset.

Early in the event, Emma Loughney of the Waterford Walls street-art festival had talked about their success bringing gaps between locals and street artists.

Young people drawn to tagging are mentored by street artists. So, Loughney said, there’s a sense of ownership of the work, and the festival’s murals are never tagged.

Artist Emily Nayhree questioned the commercial side of festivals like Waterford Walls, and contract agreements with local authorities that are coming up now. “We worked for years, and it used to be hard to make money. Now it’s not,” she said. “Now Dublin City Council want a cut [of the art].”

Sometimes public street art can be exempt from planning permission if it’s done in conjunction with a local authority, Conway said. “But we do insist on no overt political, religious or discriminating content,” she said.

Planning permission can be refused, too, if the proposal isn’t appropriate.

But street art isn’t supposed to blend into the background, said the artist Rask, from near the front. He’s worked as a street artists for more than 30 years, he says.

“It’s supposed to interfere. The process is flawed if you feel it’s not supposed to interfere. Artists may be making a political or religious statement,” he said.

The council are to be commended, he said, for their work towards a framework. But ultimately “it’s a bastardisation of the culture I love so much”.

Later, in break-out groups, artists and officials came together to hash out the main issues raised in presentations.

Generally, the artists said there was a lack of clarity around planning permissions for murals – and a lack of understanding, on the council’s part, of the value of street art.

Both council officials and artists thought it would be helpful to designate more walls in the city as legal spots to do street art.

But both sides also agreed that it would be difficult to identify the right sites. Artists would need to help the council to identify these sites, Conway said.

If there is to be more teamwork between street artists and local authorities, there should be a number of artists deciding on who gets planning permission, suggested some in groups.

“I haven’t paid enough attention to street art. It’s time I engaged with street artists,” said Ray Yeates, the council’s arts officer, in a closing speech.

“Outside experts” would be brought in to judge the proposals for street art works, he said.

Next step? Another group, this time, “to come up with actions and initiatives”.

“We have to find a legal way of doing it,” said Yeates. But “the partnership process is full of potential”.

Zuzia Whelan

Zuzia Whelan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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