Grey paint and padlocks

by keith on March 28, 2011

Photo of padlocked gates at the Left Bank entrance to the Left Bank Gallery.

There was a photo in last Tuesday’s Dom Post of a paintbrush-toting chap in bright orange. Council employees wearing high-vis vests in the paper almost never means something good, and on reading the associated story* this was no exception:

Wellington City Council workers yesterday started removing graffiti in a lane that links Ghuznee St with the Left Bank.

CitiOperations manager Mike Mendonca said the lane was an “eyesore which attracted the wrong people” and one of the city’s most heavily hit tagging spots.

You say eyesore, we say the Civic Trust award-winning Left Bank Gallery. Which, it turns out, is private property.

The owners have decided to gate the lane off indefinitely. In return we said we will get rid of the graffiti so there is a positive outcome for everyone.

And it is, of course, for The Rugby: “We do want our city to look good for the Rugby World Cup.” Apparently the council’s vision of “good” is a lot like how you were supposed to look when you were seven years old and visiting your grandmother: starched, muted, all traces of personality savagely brushed away. We must be on our best behaviour for the rugby tourists, those internationally renowned arbiters of good taste and high culture.

It’s true that the lane was past its best–the rare new bit of actual street art in there quickly got swallowed up by the tags — and it’s also true that this is not the first time it’s been painted over. But we’re still worried, especially since the story also threatens that the Council will be going after “other tagging hotspots… in the coming months”.

We were kicking this subject around at Wellingtonista Towers and Alan said something that summed the issue up so nicely I decided to steal it:

It would be easy to scour away all the filthy but interesting encrustations that save Wellington from being what it was up until the late 80s: a really horribly boring civil service town.

It’s not like they’re going to put any of this stuff back after the rugby mpunters have left. Nor is a coat of featureless grey paint all that’s standing between the gallery and respectability (if it was, they wouldn’t have padlocked it). It’s still going to be a slightly grotty alleyway; now it will just be a closed-off one, stripped of what little life it had.

* Despite its strong resemblance to a Council press release, I checked the story against the actual release and the quotes are all original, so apparently reporting — not to say journalism — has in fact taken place.

UPDATED 10.57am to clarify the lane is private property. Sorry about that.

Dan March 28, 2011 at 10:37 am

That is such nonsense from the council, and terrible to hear that urban art is being removed because some people working for the council can’t understand that art isn’t just ‘fine’, for everyone. Good article!

twelveplusone March 28, 2011 at 10:37 am

I suggest we organise a rally of Wrong People™ when the Rugby World Cup® hits town to engage in a bit of making the city look the wrong kind of good.

Cam March 28, 2011 at 11:40 am

If the council haven’t bussed all of the Wrong People out of town already…

Ben March 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm

As an inner city building owner/resident I do not think it’s ok for people to put unwanted graffiti/art/advertisements on my home/business. How would you feel if I wandered into the suburbs and spray painted my name on your house?

Joanna March 28, 2011 at 12:22 pm

How pretty would it look?

Ben March 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm

I would think it was awesome. But not everyone appreciates my big balloon letter writing.

keith March 28, 2011 at 12:59 pm

There’s two fallacies in your argument:

1. The whole point is to argue that street art should be wanted and encouraged. It’s not automatically an eyesore just because it came out of a spray can.

(And “sanctioned” murals are usually far worse eyesores–think of the ugly mess opposite Appleton Park.)

2. No city building is just “yours” or “mine” or anyone’s. A house in Churton Park is usually used only by its permanent inhabitants, but this was a thoroughfare open to and used by the public, until it suddenly wasn’t.

Yes, the owners are legally entitled to do what they did, but that doesn’t automatically make it a good decision.

sue March 28, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Personally I wouldn’t use Appleton Park as an example of bad, it was a really fun thing for people to participate in, ok it’s not art, or design at it’s best but does everything have to be?

The joint approach of community participation, community funding & paint by numbers made it more than just a mural on a wall, every time i drive past i know i helped paint that, and it was something fun at the time also something that had never been done before in wellington.

Maximus March 29, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Dear twelveplusone
I’m concerned that I may be one of the “wrong people” and accidentally get bussed out of town during the Wugby as I do not like the game. However, as an inner city resident, whose abode gets tagged frequently, can I just say I’d welcome graffitos if they were clever, well done, or witty and charming. However, most of the time we just get some moron who writes CUNT, which some of us find less than palatable. So to speak.

pinkie March 30, 2011 at 12:55 pm

as someone who has indulged in some most unsavoury activies in that alley, I can fully understand the desire to curtail it. let’s face it, it was for a while a pretty cool place with murally-type graf, but the ovexposure of the location through various graf-record websites and its resultant increasing layer of just dirty notoriety-seeking scribble makes it quite a shit hole. it IS attracting groups of shit-heads hanging around being toxic, the felt pen is going further and further out along into the businesses in leftbank like the sewing shop, who have to regularly paint over it, but the building owners also are letting moss and mold and big piles of pigeon shit build up everywhere so yeah it looks and feels like a slum anyway.

still that is their RIGHT as it is a private accessway (dunno if we could argue right-of-way through customary usage yet? how long?)

sure if somethign like this could be held aside for the more palatable and media-friendly work like in aro valley i can get myself angry about it being closed off, but its a scum-wall right now.

The only thing that really really pisses me off is the WCC using The Rugby as an excuse, as if The Rugby is a prime source of aesthetic stimulus.

No, WCC is acting like that revolting nightclub in Hamilton which I think is gone now, which used to make everyone tuck their shirts in like primary school kids in an imitation of respectability before going inside and getting hammered to the point of vomiting on the floor.

pinkie March 30, 2011 at 12:58 pm

oh, and its a fantastic source of photographic subject matter, actually to me that is the biggest loss of all. i could spend all day in there. no more 🙁

richard maclean March 31, 2011 at 11:44 am

Just for the record, the City Council doesn’t have the right or, indeed, the buses to bus anyone out of town. I detect a distinct whiff of paranoia mixed with outright snobbery among some of the comments on this Left Bank subject. It’s funny that every time a big event hits Wellington – whether it be Lord of the Rings parades or a visit by some VIP – there’s an assumption that a paddywagon goes round town and picks up Ben Hana, the juggling bloke and a bunch of other street people and drives them to some sort of prison outside the town boundaries. There they apparently stay until all the beautiful people have left. Sadly for some of your more paranoid correspondents, it’s all a myth. Civil liberties probably have something to do with this…
In terms of the rugby angle, isn’t it time some of your correspondents moved on and realised it’s no longer 1981? It’s actually possible and legitimate these days to be hip and groovy and edgy, to know the difference between ‘street art’ and straight-out vandalism and follow Wellingtonista – but at the same time also enjoy a game of rugby. Rugby is no longer the preserve of fascists and racists. Some of your more snobby correspondents should catch up with the play, so to speak.
Richard MacLean – WCC Communications

Joanna March 31, 2011 at 12:17 pm

You say “snobby” like it’s a bad thing, Richard…

richard maclean March 31, 2011 at 8:25 pm

generally, yes it is.

stephen clover April 4, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Richard, it happened in Beijing and it happened in Delhi. And worse, besides. And it happened in Aro Valley, and it happened in Newtown. So umm.. it does happen 😀

Groggy April 5, 2011 at 5:58 pm

“Rugby is no longer the preserve of fascists and racists” – true, but it is still the preserve of morons and boofheads. I’d volunteer for the bus out of town on rugby days.

richard maclean April 5, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Stephen I presume you’re talking about people being bussed out of Newtown and Aro Valley to an unknown fate. When did this happen?

stephen clover April 6, 2011 at 2:05 pm

I’m talking about the liquor bans – first in Aro, then Newtown – which very conveniently achieved the same effect.

richard maclean April 6, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Hmm Stephen no-one was run out of town because of the liquor bans. And before you start complaining that the bans have infringed on the civil liberties of a few people who just want a quiet drink in the park, consider the large number of Aro Valley residents, and Newtown residents and retailers – who pressed the Council to introduce the bans. They didn’t really take kindly to drunken people sleeping across the footpath in Riddiford Street, or fighting and swearing and scaring the kids in Aro Park. I presume you think the Council is stomping on the rights of street drunks and that the bans tend to ‘sanitise’ the city and take away its edginess and appeal to hipsters. Or something like that. Main point though is that generally the Police have got better things to do than round up street drunks. If the drunks are causing mayhem, though, the bans give the Police power to act. Possibly the main group affected by liquor bans are the ‘morons and boofheads’ of Courtenay Place – so loathed by some Wellingtonistas. I think the cocktails/coffee/film festival/urban art cognoscenti are safe, though.
Richard MacLean
WCC Communications

pinkie April 6, 2011 at 5:56 pm

I don’t see it as running people out of town, I see it as town being a horrible place to be FOR PEOPLE WHO ALREAD LIVE HERE precisely because of the behaviour of many who are attracted into town _by_ these events, and thus people are effectively run out / kept away. (oh hang on, “choose” not to be in town… yeah right)

Richard you are constructing a falsely hysterical argument and ascribing it to mythically-conceived opponents, then using that to bludgeon people with snide comments and underhanded insults presented as “general remarks” to avoid accusation of being personal. As such you betray precisely the sort of bullying and deliberate thick-headedness which is the hallmark of the stereotypical rugby enthusiast. Are you a mainstream white middle aged guy by any chance?

This is not “harking back to 1981”. When the Sevens are on the town is full of arseholes being arseholey to everyone who is not one of them. This will only get worse with the RWC. It is not about “a game of rugby” it is about systemic imposition of hegemony. The fact that this is being supported by discredited economic justifications is another issue, but for you to post here as a representative of WCC, and indulge in obnoxious name-calling does you no credit whatsoever.

Groggy April 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Actually very few people wach the rugby at the 7’s, so it’s not a great analogy, and even less of them are likely to turn up to any S15/ANZ Cup games. They couldn’t really be descriped as a typical rugby crowd. More the Courtney place crowd spilling out of their ghetto 🙂

stephen clover April 6, 2011 at 7:54 pm

In case I need to clarify/explain: I didn’t say anyone was run out of town because of the liquor bans. I’m merely insinuating that the liquor bans had a convenient and from some perspectives not-unwelcome side-effect of the same.

It’s my understanding — please correct me if I’m wrong — that there are numerous statutes under which police could do/could’ve done something about public drinkers, nuisance-makers, urinaters and child-scarers, if they had the resources and the inclination do so. For whatever reason they didn’t, or wouldn’t, so… a series of bylaws later: problem solved.

For that nifty piece of law-making one has to applaud the law-makers; likewise I’m sure that council is eminently capable of similarly concocting other pieces of similar bylaw which have similarly convenient side- and flow-on- effects. Go council.

sue April 6, 2011 at 6:55 pm

I appreciate Richard taking the time to respond here, and don’t see him now or ever playing the part of a bully.

I’m also a little over everyone being all ‘7s is bad rugby is bad’. I think bundling all rugby fans and people who go to the 7s and people who plan to attend the rugby world cup into one mass of idiots is a sloppy position to take.

Yes there is a large proportion of idiots who go to the rugby. But there are quite a few who are not. Personally i plan to try and make money off them. My business has gone downhill this year and I’m hoping selling at the frank kitts markets during RWC season might help me not make a scorching loss this year.

What’s sad here is that a space that served no function or purpose was converted into a a beautiful space. Now it’s back to serving no purpose, when brighter minds might have turned it into a tourist destination like Bubble Gum Alley in downtown San Luis Obispo.

richardmaclean May 7, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Pinkie I just got back to this thread – thanks for the laughs. And you are so so so on the money – I am as mainstream and white and middle-aged as your worst possible nightmare.
Richard MacLean – WCC Communications

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