July 13, 2018

Banksy wants to help save Bristol’s libraries


The library system in the UK has been having a rough old time of it in recent years. Since 2010, at least 478 libraries have closed according to Natasha Onwuemezi at The Bookseller. The Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA) reported at the end of last year that spending on council-run libraries fell by £66 million ($87m) and paid staff numbers fell by five percent. CIPFA Chief Executive Rob Whiteman commented, “Cuts in local authority funding are forcing councils to make difficult choices about which services they can afford. Unfortunately for libraries and library users, this is a low-hanging fruit that continues to be picked.”

For a prime example, look to the city of Bristol, where cuts of £1.4 million ($1.85m) have been proposed. The future of seventeen out of Bristol’s twenty-seven libraries hangs in the balance. Last spring, Mayor Marvin Rees announced the cuts as a necessary attempt to claw back the council’s £108 million ($143m) deficit by 2023. A few months later he contradicted this and announced all libraries would in fact remain open until 2020, after the next mayoral election.

So how will libraries be saved in two years?

Enter Bristol’s hero: a shadowy figure whose true identity is unknown; an artist whose work addresses political and social issues. I’m referring, of course, to Banksy. Celebrated for the activist savvy and candor of his street art, which uses graffiti stencilling techniques to create subversive images, Banksy got his start in Bristol. In September 2017, he donated £205,000 ($272,000) from the sale of his work Civilian Drone Strike to Reprieve and Campaign Against Arms Trade to help the group to mobilise protests against arms companies and protest against the next Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair in London. In June 2017 he controversially (and illegally) offered Bristolians voting in the general election an incentive to snub the Tories, as Damien Gale reported for the Guardian. Banksy’s website at the time bore a banner that read, “Simply send in a photo of your ballot paper from polling day showing you voted against the Conservative incumbent and this complimentary gift will be mailed to you.”

The complimentary gift was a free, limited edition print. So his support for libraries facing mass closures due to Conservative government cuts is perhaps unsurprising, but it’s extremely welcome. Esme Ahscroft at the Bristol Post quotes Rees:

“It’s just that a very well known person from Bristol wrote in and asked us the nature of the challenge and to outline what support we need as a city to meet that challenge and that person was Banksy.

“He has come forward and talked about supporting us and we will see how that plays itself out.

“There is nothing signed and delivered and so far it is just a conversation that we had.”

Bansky is not the only patron coming forward, according to Bristol’s deputy mayor, Asher Craig. She told Ashcroft, “Banksy is one of a couple of outside persons of interest and they may be investments in community parts not investing in the coffers of the council.”

The council was also presented with three public petitions in November, signed by over 12,000 people, many passionately extolling the important work their local libraries do in their communities.

The future of Bristol’s libraries remains uncertain, as we await discussions of the libraries’ future between the Council and the cabinet in October. Just the rest of the country to save now…



Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.