EDITOR'S CHAIR: Chartism is important, not the mural
9:32am Thursday 19th September 2013 in News
MUCH has been written and said about Newport's Chartist mural in recent weeks.
Pleas to have it listed by Cadw, the Welsh heritage body, as having special architectural interest - and therefore protected from demolition - have failed.
Now the mural will be demolished along with the Capitol car park as part of preparatory work for the long-awaited Friars Walk shopping centre.
Opinion is divided over the 1970s artwork. Some believe it is a piece of historic art that should be saved at all costs. Others claim it has no artistic value and demolition is the best thing for it.
I tend to sit a little in the middle of the debate.
I think that what the mural represents - the Chartist march on Newport, the massacre outside the Westgate Hotel, and the subsequent changes that paved the way to our modern democracy - is far more important than what it actually is.
The appreciation of art is all about opinion. There is no right and wrong. One man's priceless artwork is another's bunch of tiles bunged on the wall of an underpass.
I can appreciate and understand the views of those who wanted to see the John Frost Square mural saved.
If there was a way to do it that was inexpensive for the public purse and quick enough that it would not delay or endanger the Friars Walk development then it would have my full support.
But we have to face reality.
Experts believe it would cost £600,000 to save the mural and, because of the various ways it is attached to the underpass wall, there were fears it would not survive any relocation anyway.
It is also important to remember the mural is not intact, parts of it were lost some years ago during shop redevelopments.
Most importantly - and I know there are some who disagree totally with my view on this - if Cadw had decided to list the mural the impact on Friars Walk would have been fatal.
That is not a sensational claim.
Everything I have heard from my sources and contacts - and part of my job is to talk off the record to many people - pointed to a strong possibility that the entire Friars Walk deal would collapse if the mural had been listed and protected.
That would have been disastrous for Newport.
The city council has pledged to commission a new memorial to the Chartists to replace the mural. As we wrote in our comment piece yesterday, the Argus will hold the council to its promise, as should everyone else in Newport.
The Chartists should be commemorated in Newport. No question.
But let's come up with something brilliant. Something that makes people stop and look, that makes them stop and think.
The mural was what it was. But it was hardly a tourist attraction.
There should be a competition - open to everyone in Newport - to come up with the best idea for a 21st century Chartist memorial.
The decision on what it should look like, what it should be, and where it should be sited should be made by the people of Newport.
Public art should have the backing of the people. I remain to be convinced there is huge public support for the mural.
If whatever replaces it has such support then it - and what it represents - will hopefully play a central part in the life of the city and its people.
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