If you have travelled through Withington Village over the past year, you will have had the pleasure of seeing the vibrant street art covering various walls and shutters.
Art has always had the ability to cross language and cultural barriers. Public art is accessible to everyone, and, because of this, it can be a vehicle for positive change.
The artwork was created through a community project, Withington Walls. This volunteer-led group has had a huge impact on the appearance of Withington and the people who see the artwork. They have worked with some incredible artists such as Caroline Dowsett, Hammo and Luke Passey.
Withington was designated a Conservation Area in 1983 due to its historical and architectural legacy. Withington Village has a unique and vibrant cultural identity with its independent shops and local landmarks, including Withington Baths, The Red Lion pub, Withington Library and St. Paul’s Church.
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Despite this, Withington has felt the effects of underfunding. Parts of Old Moat are among the 10 per cent most deprived areas in England and in 2013 a local group of protesters saved Withington Baths from being closed due to budget cuts.
In the past couple of years, groups such as the Withington Village Regeneration Partnership (WVRP) have been pushing for the rejuvenation of the village. In August 2020, Manchester City Council published a draft strategy for the improvement of Withington which is still in its consultation stage.
Withington Walls shows how creativity and artistic expression can be a catalyst for change and regeneration. I spoke with Ed Wellard, one of the founders of the street art project. “It makes me really sad how much [art is] neglected and derided,” he says.
Ed continues: “It’s such a shame that our government is doing so little to protect […] the creative or arts sector. We’ll be culturally poorer as a result.”
“Our lives would be pretty sad and boring without [art]. Science, engineering, and technology can fulfil our basic needs but art makes life worth living.”
Ed stresses the “need for investment in schemes that renew and reshape and reimagine our town centres.”
The inspiration for the project came from wanting to create a sense of place, of vibrancy, and character through an injection of colour and street art. Ed says their aim is for people to know Withington as a “vibrant centre of creativity” covered in amazing street art like an “urban art gallery.” The artwork has also led to more support for the local economy and independent shops in the village.
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One of their most popular pieces is a mural of Marcus Rashford created by the artist Akse. “The positive response to the Rashford mural must have been heightened by pride in ‘one of our own,’” Ed says. The Withington Walls team wanted to celebrate “a potent symbol of local pride.” Rashford was selected, he continued, because “he’s spoken truth to power. He’s used his platform for good. He’s been humble and fought for the underdog. People are into that.”
Akse is also the artist behind the Peter Saville mural which was the first piece ever created for Withington Walls. Saville is an iconic graphic designer known for his work with Factory Records.
“There is a fair amount of ‘who is he?’ in response to the mural.” Saville might not be as well known as Rashford but “there’s always been a sense of mystery and intrigue to street art.”
Almost two years after this first mural, Withington Walls have helped brighten numerous walls and shutters. They have also raised £11,000 on Crowdfunder to help continue their work. The success of this project shows how much people appreciate and support what they are doing.
As a community-led project, there will always be limitations without public support. Withington Walls are always looking out for ideas or artists to contribute. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.