Walking through the city of Glasgow, there is never a lack of things to catch your eye. The energy and vibe of Glasgow is reflected in its surroundings, and the City Centre Mural Trail is no different. The project was set up by Glasgow City Council in 2008 and continues to this day to expand the city’s portfolio of street art. The trail gives street artists a platform to showcase their work, with financial support from the council, by painting murals on abandoned sites. The project has helped amplify the vibrant, artistic spirit that Glasgow thrives off.
Perhaps one of the most valuable roles the trail plays is in providing a platform for street artists to showcase their craft. Instead of authorities cracking down on street art, the trail allows artists to apply to be showcased, hence providing opportunities to both prominent and emerging artists to widen their audience. By advertising the trail and marking each stop, the art receives additional visitors– it is promoted as an art form, helping widen its reach and effectiveness. Murals of such a large scale are expensive to create, and the city council provides support towards the costs involved in creating the art on the trail, making street art more accessible to artists who couldn’t otherwise afford to showcase their work.
Street art can relay just as much political and cultural commentary as any other art form. On the project website, artists provide context and discuss the message of their art in their own words and through marking out the trail and allowing artists to comment on their work, the deeper commentary of the art is clearly communicated to the public. In this sense, the trail almost acts like a street art ‘museum’, turning the city into a showcase of the best street art Glasgow has to offer, with the street art as ‘installations’ and the website as a digital ‘plaque’. The trail manages to encapsulate not only Glasgow’s street art but also its history, with the art celebrating prominent Glaswegians such as Billy Connolly. The trail also imbues Glasgow with more colour and vibrancy. Fundamentally, it was set up to rejuvenate parts of Glasgow that are more run down and allows street artists to give back to the city by turning unused space into something exciting. Glasgow has always been a city that feels alive – even the idea that ‘People Make Glasgow’ plays off this. Cities are reflections of the people that live in them and Glasgow itself is as outgoing and raucous as its residents.
Street art has always been an opportunity for individuals to leave their mark on a city, and by showing support for the trail, the council has shown its support for Glasgow’s pioneering artistic spirit. Through attracting artists like SMUG – who has showcased his work internationally – the council is calling attention to Glasgow as a city of arts and culture. This relationship is symbiotic; the city highlights street art as an art form, and the street art attracts visitors to these locations in the city, and the local attractions nearby.
However, there could be a fundamental clash between the inherent rebelliousness of street art and its endorsement by the council in the trail. Street art didn’t need to be embraced by the council in order to legitimise it as an art form, and part of its appeal has always been in its status as experimental and avant-garde. The city council states they won’t support street art that ‘promote[s] or oppose[s] a view on a question of political controversy which is identifiable as the view of one political party’, and there is the risk that increased support from the council is accompanied by an increase in the influence they can exert over its content. Whilst the trail itself does seem to provide an open platform for artists to showcase their point of view, there is the risk that street art can begin to be censored and toned down in order to be more publicly accepted.
The mural trail represents the flourishing of the street art scene in Glasgow and is symbolic of not just a physical journey through Glasgow, but also an emotional exploration of its cultural past and future. Whilst street art doesn’t need to be endorsed or legitimised by councils, its nonetheless encouraging to see authorities embracing and celebrating alternative art forms to recognise their importance. However, organised street art shouldn’t eclipse the freedom of creative expression and commentary that street art has always embodied. Street art is known for being radical and should continue to push cultural and artistic boundaries. Perhaps this is what makes the street art trail so well suited for Glasgow. Glasgow is a city with personality; it isn’t afraid to take risks, and what better way to explore this than paying a visit to the trail.
[Catherine Bouchard – she/her – @cat_b_99]