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Mary McCarthy

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The Legalities of Street Art

Posted: 11/12/2013 18:00

From its origins as a form of anti-establishment political protest to its' present day incarnation as a multi million pound industry, street art has not only radically transformed the way we view our public pavements and walls but has also inadvertently turned the illegality of an art form into a controversial topic subject to widespread debate. One indeed worthy of the Houses of Parliament, where on Friday 13 December a momentous event in the art world is scheduled to take place.

The House of Commons will open its' doors to Smile Britannia, the first charity 'Street Art' auction ever to take place in the UK's home of politics. With an incredibly impressive catalogue of art, donated by an eclectic roster of artists, this auction will go down in history as the first event to see this contemporary art form being so evidently accepted by the establishment it has fought so tirelessly against.

Previously described as vandalism, criminal activity and the 'wanton destruction of private property', lately and with increased frequency, there has been a noticeable softening of the judicial system towards street art. Just last week a Mancunian street artist was unexpectedly excused from a significant prison term for vandalism, despite causing thousands of pounds worth of damage, because the judge residing over the case believed the offender had unquestionable talent and indeed 'could be the next Banksy'.

We live in a time where the lines of legality surrounding street art have been blurred. A time where the Houses of Parliament are hosting an auction for the proceeds of a Banksy wall piece to be donated to charity, where the NYC Department of Transportation has made street art a priority, judges are pardoning artists due to their obvious talents and we bear witness to the ultimate irony - Walmart selling prints of Banksy's 'Destroy Capitalism' to the mass market.

Through these blurred lines of legality there has been a consistent rise in the substantial sums of money art collectors are prepared to pay for what law enforcement officers still consider to be illegal acts of vandalism and the fact remains that this art form carries a hefty prison term and/or fine if caught in the act and charged.

So what's wrong or right? What's street art and what's illegal? What's freedom of expression and what's vandalism? Maybe now it is we, the general public who are making that decision. For we are without doubt shaping the way street art is viewed by the establishment through our vocal demand for freedom of creative expression. The public outpouring of appreciation and deep affection for street art has never been more apparent, particularly in disadvantaged areas where street art is viewed as the only readily accessible, creative expression freely available to the masses. In our questioning of the illegality of street art we, as a global population, have influenced the powers that be to consider the clearly evident meritocracy - and in the process of doing so, pave the way for the creatives of the future to showcase their works of art in the Houses of Parliament too.

As Banksy once wrote, 'Imagine a city where graffiti wasn't illegal, where anyone could draw wherever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. Imagine a city like that, and stop leaning against the wall - it's wet!'

Smile Britannia - Houses of Parliament - 13 December - 7:30-10
Advanced reserve and telephone bids are being taken by London Westbank Gallery. To view full sale information and the catalogue go to www.londonwestbank.com containing works from Banksy, Nick Walker, David Walker, Inkie, Ryan Callanan and Mau Mau. All proceeds will be split between The Smile Britannia Project, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life and Temwa.

 
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