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More than 5,000 murals across the UK will be digitally recorded as part of an ambitious new initiative led by the art education charity, Art UK, which will add the street art works to its free public database.

Some of Banksy’s works, which are dotted around the country in locations such as Brighton and Bristol, are due to be included (the Art UK database already incorporates some of the elusive street artist’s work including 2021’s Escaping Convict at Reading Gaol which shows an inmate escaping from the now defunct prison). Also expected to be digitised are works from Northern Ireland, where some of the UK’s most notable murals can be found—including approximately 300 large-scale images emblazoned across walls in Unionist and Catholic communities.

Volunteer researchers and photographers will document and capture the works, which are described by Art UK as “two-dimensional murals”. They add that “sculptural three-dimensional works made of concrete, brick, wood, tile and other materials will also be included.” The aim is to bring to the fore the artists behind some of the UK’s most visible street art works, while protecting them for future generations.

Many of the murals in Northern Ireland are tied up with decades of violent unrest between Catholic and Protestant communities, known as the Troubles, and so documenting them is a task that requires particular sensitivity. In its preparatory notes for the programme, Art UK states that to prepare, it “sought advice from several local experts, to ensure that we consider local sensitivities and understand any challenges which might be involved.“

The notes add that staff have “spoken with Bill Rolston, Emeritus Professor, Transitional Justice Institute, Ulster University, who has been documenting and photographing painted political murals since 1981 and has published several books on the subject. He supports the idea of Art UK recording murals in Northern Ireland and is willing to share his vast experience and information.”

aWilliam Kelly, Tom Kelly and Kevin Hasson‘s The Petrol Bomber (1994) is an example of Northern Ireland’s murals, many of which are tied to histories of cultural and political unrest. This particular mural references the Battle of the Bogside, a riot which broke out in Derry in 1969 and is often seen as the beginning of the 30-year conflict known as the Troubles

The charity will also work with Belfast Exposed, a community-based photography learning centre, on a photography project that aims to allow the public to document murals themselves, and put them together in displays that convey how they feel about murals in their area.

Katey Goodwin, deputy chief executive and director of community engagement at Art UK, says in a statement: “From shopping centres and railway stations to churches and museums, we will celebrate the thousands of painted and sculptural murals in our communities. Many of these are at risk of decay or demolition so the work of our staff and volunteers will ensure that a permanent record is created.”

The three-year project will be backed by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which has provided £250,000; other funders include the Pilgrim Trust and Historic England. Community activities devised by CultureStreet, which focuses on engaging young people with the arts, VocalEyes, which promotes access to the arts for blind and visually impaired people, will form part of a public engagement programme.

Art UK is the “online home” and database for more than 300,000 works held in more than 3,400 UK institutions.

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