White-washing culture, Belfast June 2013

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I lived in east Belfast between 2002 and 2007. As anyone who is reading this blog knows, John Peel died in November 2004. I was so surprised and touched to see that someone had painted a mural in tribute to him in Belfast in the week after he died that I rushed out to take a picture of it, thinking it would be gone in a few days. (My original post about it is here)

Last night (20th June) I was alerted to the fact that the Teenage Dreams tribute to John Peel in Belfast was no longer there. I am reacting to this story via reports from social media but they all seem to be reliable accounts, and there are before and after pics on twitter via the hashtag #teenagedreams

It seems that there has been some work taking place around that bridge recently, and some initial reports suggest that it had been covered and protected, but looking at pictures taken this morning, it appears to have been white-washed over. For personal reasons I am annoyed and saddened by this. It always made me smile every time I passed it when I was on a visit home.

However, there are some bigger issues here. In 2003 I remember a lot of fuss around Belfast's bid to be European City of Culture in 2008 and the shock on the faces on corporate types as the shortlist was announced and Belfast hadn't made it. Champagne glasses stayed dry at the press event in the Waterfront Hall. They really thought that they were in with a chance, despite closing the Arts Theatre and running an aggressive campaign to remove fly-posting from the city's walls. As a frequent visitor to the city it often appears to me that there is nothing on, at least in comparison to what I could see on the walls in the 1980s and 1990s when I was growing up. If the powers that be have sanctioned the removal of the John Peel mural, then their definition of culture is very different to mine.

The other problem with the mural removal should concern everyone in the city, not just those of us who work in the media or arts and culture. When I was house hunting in 2002 I viewed a few places in the east of the city, where I eventually settled. One day I took a different route away from the viewing, towards a different bus stop, and I looked around and I saw this mural.

The last time I was there, that mural was still in place. Now, if the authorities are going to tackle mural removal, would it not be in the public interest to remove something that intimidates and frightens their citizens, rather than one that, for an awful lot of people in my world, filled them with a tiny bit of hope.

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