george street mural
On the occasion of the British Art Show opening at Leeds Art Gallery I commissioned Unfold, a programme of events, exhibitions and marketing showcasing the wider visual arts scene in the city. Although the marketing and events raised the profile of the full spectrum of visual arts in the city, in order to reach out to new audiences and remind them that the city’s galleries, studios, workshops and classrooms were waiting for them we wanted a more visible and permanent marker.
I commissioned two new pieces of public art in high footfall areas, one of which was the George Street Mural on the outside walls of the historic Leeds Kirkgate Market, an area undergoing regeneration with the arrival of a high-end retail centre, markedly different in style, feel and clientele to the much-loved Victorian markets, which was also undergoing controversial renovations. The commissions also included Windows of Leeds.
There was a nervous energy around the new developments and what impact they could have on the culture of the area. Would the market become gentrified? Would prices rise changing the demographic who shopped, ate, drank and met there? Could it be a dividing line between rich and poor? With the media constantly telling stories of gentrification and displacement I wanted to use the opportunity and profile provided by the Unfold project to send a more positive message.
Cities thrive because they have many different elements to them – high-end retail can sit cheek by jowl with pound shops without the world coming to end. Leeds is a diverse city and should be able to represent its many communities, interests and personalities equally. The location of the markets is at a key entrance to the city centre next door to the bus station, and as the areas around it develop and the market responds to those changes footfall will increase. Rather than shy away from the different styles and try to blend in I created a brief that would send a bold, positive statement and become part of the fabric of that area, showing that different styles can work in one area.
I appointed artist and illustrator Nathan Evans to the project with a brief to welcome all people to the area regardless of whether they were doing their weekly food shop at the market, spoiling themselves with designer purchases at Victoria Gate or just passing through on their commute to work.
Nathan created a large-scale hand-painted mural which simply read: Hello & Welcome to Leeds.
Taking up the full side of the outdoor market wall the mural represents the diverse ethnicity of the city, the melting pot of communities, the different people who will use this single street every day for many different reasons and reminds us that we can all not only exist in the same space but we can do so as one welcoming community.
This commission has since been nominated for a World Illustration Award and has become one of the most photographed installations in the city from residents and businesses alike.