Dismaland one year on

10:42am - 19 August 2016

A year ago the world’s media spotlight was focusing intently on Weston-super-Mare following the news that renowned artist Banksy was hosting an exhibition in the disused lido on the seafront.

Dismaland in the Tropicana drew tens of thousands of visitors to the town and gave the area a media profile to die for.

Dismaland in numbers: • six million hits a minute on the Dismaland website when it launched • 150,000 visitors to the show • £20 million additional benefit to the local economy • 50% increase in hotel stays • 9,000 extra visitors to Grand Pier in August • fifth most photographed UK place in 2015 on Instagram – and it was only open for five weeks!

So what has happened since then?

“Hosting Banksy’s Dismaland was an opportunity to reach out to a wider audience and let people know what the town and area has to offer. We wanted to use the Banksy effect to attract investment to help us with our ambitious plans for the development of the town,” said North Somerset Council’s Chief Executive, Mike Jackson.

“Dismaland has built confidence about trying something a bit different,” he said. “Culture and the arts, as part of the cultural economy, have a key role in the future of the area. North Somerset is rich in culture, arts and heritage and we want to make the most of that.”

The award-winning team at HemingwayDesign has been commissioned by the council to help develop a vision to regenerate the site, and explore its potential to become a multi-use creative arts and entertainment venue.

The role of the creative sector in developing a prosperous and vibrant town centre is a strong theme in the council’s ambitious plans for Weston-super-Mare.

Mike Jackson added: “We want to harness the potential of the creative economy and nurture local talent through the development of a town centre creative hub. Alongside this, the continued improvement of the Tropicana site adds further momentum to our major programme of regeneration, attracting new interest and investment in the town and expanding Weston’s cultural offer for residents and visitors alike.”

Since the curtain came down on Dismaland in September, North Somerset Council has invested a further £500,000 in the Tropicana building including covering the rear area of the site in a surface which will allow the space to be used safely; making the former bowling alley space weather tight; putting in a simple heating and lighting system; and other external finishes and repairs.

The council teamed up with local arts development charity Theatre Orchard, to stage eight ‘Theatre @ The Bay’ shows at the seafront venue during December and January – these shows were well received and more are now under way this summer.

And next month there is an exhibition of photographs from Somerset photographer Barry Cawston to accompany his recent book ‘Are we there yet?’.

The internal gallery area at the venue will host a large number of photographs and videos providing a visual reminder of Banksy’s Dismaland together with others from Weston-super-Mare. Cawston’s photographs intentionally blur the line between the Dismaland art and Weston reality, showing the light and the dark side of both. The exhibition will open to the public on Sunday 25 September – there is no entry fee and the photos will be available for purchase.

Investment in the town is gathering momentum and visible to everyone with a major retail and leisure development at Dolphin Square due to open its doors next year and new businesses opening such as the French-style restaurant Bistrot Pierre on a striking seafront site. The creation of new good-quality housing in the heart of the town centre will boost the demand for shops and services and bring new vitality to the local economy.

As a designated Housing Zone Weston has benefitted from a significant amount of investment from the Homes and Communities Agency which has bought several sites in the centre to develop housing. The former magistrates court and the site of the police station will be transformed into modern apartments, the sites having been bought by the council earlier this year.

Work has also begun on Weston College’s ambitious multi-million pound plans to transform the Winter Gardens into a university centre.

Paul Batts, the owner of long-standing business Outdoors and Active on Meadow Street and chairman of Weston Business Improvement District, said: “The next three or four years are really important for Weston. All the right ingredients are going into the mix –  Dolphin Square, the Banksy effect, the council’s regeneration plans, what Weston College wants to achieve. We’ve probably got more new businesses coming in than we’ve ever had and that certainly adds to the diversity of what’s on offer, and is giving a change in outlook.”

And Steve Anderson, President of Weston Chamber of Commerce, added: “The relationships being built between the public and private sector are helping to develop an environment that’s good for business. We all want the same thing – for Weston, and the wider area, to be successful. Dismaland has acted as a springboard and I would urge businesses to get involved with the exciting developments and have a voice and a stake in what happens in the future.”