Banksy and the quest to put Port Talbot on the world art map
When an original piece of Banksy artwork appeared overnight in Port Talbot in December 2018, it was a Christmas present the town never unexpected.
It was the beginning of an eventful story that has taken another twist, a catalyst for a creative revolution that aims to transform the place best known for its steelworks into a destination for world class street art.
The power and popularity of Banksy was enhanced even further when the mysterious and anonymous artist revealed that the piece, named ‘Season’s Greetings’, which appeared on a garage wall in the South Wales town was an original.
It caused a media feeding frenzy and resulted in thousands of eager sightseers flocking to Port Talbot to witness the artwork first hand.
Almost three years later, with the Banksy housed at Ty’r Orsaf in the town centre, an art trail and smartphone app – ARTwalk Port Talbot – has launched which aims to transform the town into a destination for world class street art, while providing a much needed shot in the arm for the local economy.
The Heritage Lottery Wales-funded project will see a free app, available to download on both the App Store and Google Play, that takes visitors on a guided walking tour of the various murals and works of street art in the steel town.
Cardiff-based theatre director Paul Jenkins is leading the project, with support from local artists and a passionate consultancy group of Port Talbot residents.
The initiative also has the backing of the local business district, Aberavon MP Stephen Kinnock and local councillors.
Together with Banksy’s internationally-acclaimed piece, the tour will include works by renowned British graffiti artist Ame72 and local talents: Rarebit, Bims and Mongo Gushi, as well as a string of newly-commissioned, site-specific work by acclaimed artists such as Hazard One, Mike22, Amelia Unity, and SoK.
It appears the ARTwalk was born out of the pandemic, Paul Jenkins swapping one creative street art influenced project for another.
“I’d been working on a verbatim theatre project, telling the story of the Banksy in Port Talbot, when the pandemic hit and all the theatres closed,” he says.
“It occurred to me there was an opportunity to create something special, capitalising on the fantastic street art in the town, and with the help of a Heritage Lottery grant this was made possible.
“The goal of ARTwalk is to join the dots and make the most of the potential in Port Talbot,” he adds. “I believe it can be a world class destination for people to come and see street art and graffiti, but also to create it.”
For a town that has suffered a lot over the years, the hope is that the project will bring tourism and prosperity.
It’s easy to forget that while Port Talbot has a precious gem in a Banksy that needs to be shown off, there are many more pieces of stunning street art in the town.
“The Banksy was important for many reasons, not least in highlighting the brilliant graffiti and artists already in the town,” says Paul. “People like Rarebit and Mongo Gushi were creating world class art and weren’t really known beyond Port Talbot.”
Paul also points out that he hopes the ARTwalk will make up for the fact a street art gallery planned for the town didn’t happen.
“I could sense the disappointment when a street art gallery that had been promised didn’t materialise, so the obvious solution was an outdoor art trail that joined the dots between the Banksy, local artists and brought in new artists from across the UK,” he says.
“Anything that encourages diversity in the economy, as with the arrival of the Banksy, shows the potential of what can happen here in Port Talbot.”
The Port Talbot Banksy was eventually sold for a six figure sum to art dealer John Brandler, who plans to leave the artwork in Port Talbot for the foreseeable future, hoping that it will help the local community and put the town on the art world map.
“The Banksy is currently situated in Ty’r Orsaf in the town centre,” says Paul. “It’s the first stop on the ARTwalk tour and John Brandler has kindly given ARTwalk his blessing to include the iconic artwork on the trail and app. John hasn’t said anything about it being moved so we’re hopeful it will stay in Port Talbot.”
Adjacent to the M4 and dominated by the sprawling steelworks, Port Talbot has an image that has been difficult to shift for decades – unfairly viewed by some as that polluted place between Cardiff and Swansea, Paul hopes that this new breed of street art will bring a fresh perspective.
“We would love to see ARTwalk contribute to the popularity and prosperity of Port Talbot as a tourist destination,” he says. “With the new street art up and the app to guide you around available as a free download, there is no better place in Wales to enjoy outdoor art of this quality. You’d have to go to Bristol to do better and that’s the street art Mecca of Europe.”
There are many new pieces of street art that have been specially created for the ARTwalk.
“There are over half a dozen new artworks that we have commissioned thanks to funding from Heritage Lottery,” says Paul. “We advertised across the UK and the new artists were chosen by a panel made up of art professionals and a committed group of local volunteers.
“We hope this will spark ultimately a long-term movement towards showcasing Port Talbot’s creative potential.”
Find out more about ARTwalk HERE