Officers at Derry City and Strabane District Council have been asked to carry out a review of murals across the whole council area in order to identify whether or not citizens would benefit from a ratepayer-funded flood-lighting programme for political street art.
The move was initiated as councillors rubber-stamped a £40,000 flood-lighting scheme for the Bogside Artists’ iconic ‘People’s Gallery,’ a series of world-famous murals depicting Derry’s traumatic recent past, which decorate the gables of several Housing Executive flats blocks in Rossville Street.
At the council’s monthly meeting for October on Thursday evening members endorsed a recent recommendation by its Business and Culture Committee to approve the funding. However, it was further agreed that a survey be conducted to look at the value or otherwise of lighting up murals in other parts of Derry and Strabane.
Sinn Féin Councillor for The Moor, Patricia Logue, initially requested that officers carry out a “scoping exercise” to consider the benefit of lighting Free Derry corner and to bring back a paper to a further meeting of the council’s Business and Culture Committee, given the monument’s history and importance in the Bogside.
However, DUP Alderman for the Rural area, Graham Warke, said that this should be broadened to include murals in the nearby Fountain Estate, while Independent Unionist Alderman Maurice Devenney and DUP Alderman David Ramsey both urged that consideration should also be given to murals in the Waterside.
Independent Councillors for The Moor, Gary Donnelly and Sean Carr, both expressed concern that a scoping exercise could result in the ‘People’s Gallery’ flood-lighting project being delayed.
However, council officers assured them that the ratification of the £40,000 project would not be affected by the proposed review. Colr. Donnelly said it was important to recognise the “positive contribution the Bogside Artists have made” and that the flood-lighting scheme will further “highlight their work” at a time of sadness for the group after the recent death of founder member William Kelly.
Independent Councillor for Foyleside, Darren O’Reilly, said he had requested officers look at the issue of flood-lighting for Free Derry corner last year. He also warned that there could be issues around the definition of murals if the whole city and district was being scoped.
Sinn Féin Councillor for Foyleside, Mickey Cooper, said that it was important tourist footfall, a key justification for expenditure on the flood-lighting of the western perspective of the Derry Walls in the past, was factored into the exercise as “lighting up every mural would be much more costly”.
SDLP Waterside Councillor, Martin Reilly, agreed that benefit to the local tourism industry should be central to the exercise and suggested Visit Derry could be enlisted to help with the footfall figures.