We are delighted to announce that we are starting a new project, using digital and physical engagement to raise awareness of murals and street art, and their place in our communities, and highlight the diverse artists involved in creating this art form.
This three-year initiative starts in January 2024 and runs to December 2026. We will record and photograph around 5,000 murals across the UK and make them freely available on the Art UK website. Painted murals will constitute a large part of this project, alongside sculptural murals in concrete, brick, wood, stone, tile and other materials.
Murals are located on the outside and inside of buildings and in public spaces, such as shopping centres, railway stations, churches and museums. The location of murals, the circumstances behind their creation, and the materials used to create them can result in this type of artwork being ephemeral in nature. Buildings and housing estates are demolished to make way for new developments meaning that many murals have been lost. We will record the murals as they look now, to provide a record if they are removed, defaced, or suffer environmental damage.
Art UK has in place a well-trained, dedicated network of Volunteer Researchers and Photographers ready to take on a new challenge. We will recruit new volunteers across the UK, especially in areas where we do not currently have an active volunteer. All volunteers receive training, guidance and ongoing support.
We will deliver a series of community and school activities, including workshops and films with artists, audio descriptions for blind and partially sighted people, and learning resources for teachers. We will write stories about the artworks, artists, artistic practice, and their locations, our digitisation and learning methodologies, and the contribution of our volunteers. We will create mural trails and Curations on the Art UK website.
There are two project partners. CultureStreet, an educational film-making organisation, will make films with young people and artists to explore this art form.
VocalEyes, a charity which works with arts organisations across the UK to identify and remove barriers to access and inclusion for blind and partially sighted people, will run a training programme to create audio descriptions of murals around the UK.
Art UK is very grateful to the project funders for their generous support for this programme: The National Lottery Heritage Fund, The Pilgrim Trust, Historic England, Colwinston Charitable Trust and The Walker Trust.
What are murals?
Murals are artworks executed directly onto a wall. Murals can be made with various materials, including paint, concrete, brick, wood, stone, ceramic tile and other materials.
Murals can be flat two-dimensional artworks, especially those created in paint.
They can also be three-dimensional and described as reliefs, friezes or sculptures.
Why is Art UK digitising murals and street art?
The murals project builds on the successes of Art UK's sculpture project, which ran from 2017 to 2021 and saw the digitisation of over 50,000 sculptures in public collections and in outdoor public spaces.
Art UK has not previously undertaken a digitisation programme which has included 2D painted murals. An accessible and immediate medium that has grown significantly in recent years, public painted murals have risen in profile as towns and cities embrace these vibrant artworks to inject colour and life back into urban areas struggling to find a new identity.
Contemporary street art has become extremely popular in recent years. The term 'street art' may typically make us think of art that is created without official permission but, despite the origins of some forms of street art in graffiti, much street art is now often sanctioned or commissioned. Although many forms of street art developed from graffiti, the main difference between the two is the intention and the audience.
Graffiti is primarily a word-based art that emerged in inner-city neighbourhoods as a way for urban youth to express themselves and their presence. Graffiti tags (words, names and symbols) are a form of branding and a way of marking territory. We will not be recording graffiti or 'tags' as part of this project.
Street art, on the other hand, is made to connect with a wide audience by putting across a message to them or simply providing something beautiful for everyone to enjoy.
As well as highlighting more well-known artists and adding to their legacy, this project will reveal the stories, artworks and practice of lesser-known muralists, who may not previously have received as much attention.
We are looking forward to starting the digitisation process very soon and sharing the newly recorded artworks on the Art UK website.
Katey Goodwin, Art UK Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Community Engagement