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'They're reimagining the city': Artists flock to Waterford to transform its streets

As the festival expands, organisers are looking for alternative funding models to keep Waterford Walls going.

NO FEE WATERFORD WALLS INTERNATIONAL STREET ART FESTIVAL JB7 Source: JULIEN BEHAL

WATERFORD WALLS, THE street art festival that invites international artists to paint the city’s walls with their own designs, is looking for a new funding model to sustain the festival into the future.

The street art festival, which began in 2015 with the aim of brightening up the city’s streets and buildings, has increased the number of invited street artists from 25 last year to 50 artists this year, and increased the number of days it runs from 3 to 10, to give artists more time to finish their work.

“The activities and events around the festival, workshops and food trails have also grown and are booked out. There’s also live music in two different hubs as part of the festival,” Tobin told TheJournal.ie.

Artists from around the world express their interest to take part in the festival, and the organisers pay for their flights, accommodation, machine hire and paint.

“Artists paint in areas that are in need of brightening up, and come from all over the world – it’s a great opportunity to meet up with fellow artists. We thought it would be unfair to constrain with too much of a brief, so we tell them that the festival is about Waterford, where Waterford is at, and how they would reimagine Waterford. The impact it has on the city is huge.”

The walls that are painted on are a mix of businesses, residential and owned by the council; Tobin says they try to encourage local businesses to cover the costs but avoid corporate sponsorship which “can dilute” the “grassroots event”.

“Part of our funding comes from Council, and some from the Arts Council. The rest is knocking on doors, asking for sponsorship – it’s a labour of love. Realistically we have about 60% of what we need to try and put this on.”

The festival is at risk in the sense that we can’t keep going the way we’re going – we do need more support. It’s a voluntary run festival, but there are actually two people working on it all year round.

The festival organisers and local council approve the final designs before they go up to make sure they’re not “political or insulting by nature” – the topics artists cover vary from person to person and include social commentary, female portraits, and messages of power.

This year, the festival received some 200 submissions from around the world – but there are additional costs to that increased demand.

“We pay for everything,” Tobin said. “When you’re funding things out in the street, people don’t really know the costs of doing something like that.”

The impact on Waterford

Festival organisers are estimating that around 10,000 people will attend this year’s event, and say the impact it makes to Waterford city is too precious to lose.

“Our feedback has been overwhelmingly positive – people changing their route to work to pass their favourite mural, people coming out of their homes to thank artists for visiting their area.

The street art literally brightens up areas that were forgotten and a bit forlorn and discourages antisocial behavior. Most of the artwork is at ground level, but there’s very little vandalism and tagging, which shows the innate natural respect for the work.

“We still have artwork from 2015 cause owners don’t want it to go.”

This year, Waterford Walls ran from the 17 August until this Sunday, 26 August.

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