Last week, I noticed a post on Facebook, suggesting that the world famous Bristol street artist, Banksy, was about to launch an exhibition in our seaside town of Weston. I refrained from clicking on the link to get the full story, certain that nothing would come of it. I mean, why would such celebrity travel 20 miles up the A370 to come to WsM, a place often overlooked, even by Bristolians.
But that was five days ago. Since then, everything has changed and a global artistic spotlight shines on Weston’s closed-for-15 years Tropicana, which has been little more than a dumping ground of a 1980’s water park (redeveloped and rebranded from the 1930’s Art Deco outdoor pool). Local campaigns to resurrect the place have been tireless, residents endlessly vociferous, the majority of councillors reticent to do anything at all with it.
Yesterday, I got off the train from a theatre trip to Bristol and was tickled by the number of, erm, good looking, young non-Westonians, eager to point their iPhones towards their faces, grinning under the railway station ‘Weston-super-Mare’ sign. This morning, I turned on Radio 4 and Weston was mentioned as the fifth news article (the last time I remember hearing anything about the town on that station was a piece, circa 2000, reporting on the proliferation of drugs here, the upsurge of rehab centres and the inevitable wagon falling off of that forms part and parcel of them). Social media has gone Banksy nuts and the newspapers and TV are all over it. This week Weston is KNOWN.
It’s not only remarkable that North Somerset Council have managed to pull this one off but that the negotiations have been so well concealed. I mean, we really knew nothing about it, barely a hint. And actually some of the structures poking out of the old Trop are huge! How did we not …
Dismaland is an exhibition pulling in some 60 artists from around the world; it’s a commentary on a sick and sickened society, an attack on consumerism, a dystopian theme park where everything is cloaked in misery and darkness. Even its website, with a jpeg for a calendar and an upside down shopping trolley forms part of this massive anti-consumerist experience. The only way to get a £3 ticket is to come to our beach lawns and queue up. I’ve heard it said that the proceeds will go towards rejuvenating the Tropicana – anyone know if this is true?
Some complain that the famous artist and his pals are taking the piss out of a sad, tired seaside town, while some (one would hope, many) of those who live here don’t see Weston as that at all: we love it for the large bays, the beautiful walks, the woods, the boatyard, the enviable topography that carboniferous limestone has bestowed upon us, its proximity to a major city and the Somerset countryside. Sure, it hasn’t got a flagship department store and the high street area offers more charity shops and mobile phone outlets than anything else but the quality of shops that a town boasts (or not) should never be the focus of life, eh Banksy?