Hosting a major exhibition by the street artist Banksy has been a catalyst for cultural renaissance and economic regeneration in the coastal town of Weston-super-Mare. This case study forms part of the Value of culture - visitor economy section of our online Culture Hub.
In the summer of 2015, North Somerset Council played host to the year’s biggest art exhibition when the street artist Banksy brought his ‘Dismaland’ show to Weston-super-Mare. For the five weeks it was open, this seaside town became the centre of the contemporary art world, with 15,000 visitors from across the UK and around the world.
Due to the artist’s hidden identity, the project had to be developed in complete secrecy. Right up until the event launched, only a few people at the council knew it was coming, which made it impossible to work with partners in the usual way. When it finally became public knowledge, a lot of work was done in a short space of time to gain as much community involvement as possible.
Impact of the project
Dismaland delivered an immediate £20 million boost to the local economy, but more importantly it helped to change people’s perceptions and engender a new-found confidence in the town. It showed just how much is possible with ambition and imagination, and gave the town confidence to try new things and take a few risks.
In the following 18 months, the pace of change has accelerated and there are significant signs of regeneration across the town: physical projects, business investment and new cultural events. Public and private sector investment can be seen everywhere, including a new £18 million cinema and leisure development opening in the summer of 2017, and a £20 million Homes and Communities Agency phase one investment which will ultimately create 700 new homes in the town centre.
The Tropicana, the venue for Dismaland and a former lido site, received £500,000 of investment from the council following the event and has been reborn as an arts and entertainment venue, welcoming 200,000 visitors in 2016.
Looking to the future
The renewed focus on Weston-super-Mare has provided an opportunity for the town to celebrate its heritage and, at the same time, reposition itself as a significant and growing urban centre within the West of England city region. Culture and the creative sector are now firmly established as essential building blocks for a vibrant offer across North Somerset. The council has submitted a bid to the Great Places pilot programme and is working with the local players in arts and culture to ensure that the cultural offer is much greater than the sum of its parts.
Mike Jackson, Chief Executive of North Somerset Council, said: “Hosting Banksy’s Dismaland was an opportunity to reach out to a wider audience and let people know what the town and area has to offer. We wanted to use the ‘Banksy effect’ to attract investment to help us with our ambitious plans for the development of the town.
“We are keen to harness the potential of the creative economy and nurture local talent through the development of a town centre creative hub. Alongside this, the continued improvement of the Tropicana site has added further momentum to our major programme of regeneration, attracting new interest and investment in the town and expanding Weston’s cultural offer for residents and visitors.”
Key learning points
- Have a clear shared vision that the right people can work together to achieve – but be bold, take risks and seize opportunities.
- Don’t under-estimate the power of art in motivating people and change.
- When you have got some momentum, ride it as far and as fast as you can.
For further information contact Vanessa Andrews, Marketing and Communications Manager, North Somerset Council: [email protected]
This case study has been developed in conjunction with Arts Council England