Camden criticised over mural restoration contract

Cabinet member says the Council is committed to restore the mural fully and historically accurately

Camden Council has been criticised for its choice of contractor to undertake the restoration of the Fitzrovia Mural and the way it handled the competitive tendering process.

Cherry picker on open space.

Photographing the Fitzrovia Mural in 2015. The images later went on display at Arup’s Phase 2 gallery in Fitzroy Street.

Kristina O’Donnell, whose father and uncle are depicted in the mural, says she is “heartbroken by the decision” to award the contract to Global Street Art to restore the much loved mural.

Global is a company that is more known for creating corporate advertising made to look like community art, and has also organised numerous graffiti art in and around Camden Town and Kentish Town. The company is not known for its mural restoration work.

“I’ve been unconvinced of their commitment to the historical importance of the piece, and their sensitivity in preserving it,” says O’Donnell who led the campaign to get mural restored.

“Lee Bofkin of Global contacted me a few years ago, saying he wanted to paint a giant box of popcorn over the mural. Is this the level of ‘restoration’ we are dealing with here?

“The original work is a product of the local community, and its locality and sense of ‘place’ is intrinsic. I hope, then, that this large-scale historical document, one of only a handful of murals left from the 1980s, will be preserved for future generations,” said O’Donnell.

The Fitzrovia mural, originally painted in 1980 by Mick Jones and Simon Barber, is one of London’s most famous murals and is seen by thousands of people every day because of its prominent location on Tottenham Court Road near Goodge Street station.

In 2010 Jones recalled how he and Barber created the giant artwork.

“In close consultation with local people we took inspiration from local life: newsagent workers, a butcher, builders, office workers, nurses, a pub, and local school children all found their way into the composition.

“The skyline reflects the speculative building of the time, the young boy hemmed in behind a fence is a comment on the lack of open spaces and amenities in the area. We developed a kind of highly figurative, narrative cartoon style which contains humour and hopefully wit as a way of highlighting the themes and issues,” he said.

Jones died of cancer in 2012 but O’Donnell continued to raise awareness of the importance of the mural and worked with the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association, the London Mural Preservation Society, and then the Fitzrovia Centre and community interest company Eazl on the initial steps to get it restored.

Eazl photographed the entire mural in 2015 and then organised an exhibition in collaboration with Fitzrovia firm Arup at its gallery in Fitzroy Street. Camden Council was involved and committed to pay for the restoration as part of its West End Project and the transformation of Tottenham Court Road.

But in 2018 Camden seemed to forget all about the groundwork done including the precise digital record of the mural.

Camden’s West End Project team approached the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association asking about the mural and if there were any photographs that could aid the restoration. The FNA had to point out that Camden had already been involved and the photos had already been taken.

Camden then decided that it needed to put the contract for the restoration out to tender. Eazl put in a bid as did other contractors including Global Street Arts.

Eazl worked with Hirst Conservation to submit a bid that would have involved the artist Paul Butler re-painting the mural, following essential restoration work on the wall’s structure. Butler and Hirst had worked on the restoration of the Hackney Peace Carnival Mural in 2014, also originally painted by Mick Jones, and Ann Walker, based on designs by Ann’s husband, Ray Walker.

Eazl heard via a third party that the contract for the Fitzrovia Mural had been instead awarded to Global Street Arts. Camden had not even bothered to inform them that their bid had been unsuccessful. Camden later apologised over the way the tendering process had been handled.

However, both Camden and Global have stressed that they are now committed to faithfully restoring the mural to its former glory, and the restoration is currently underway along with the refurbishment of Whitfield Gardens.

Lee Bofkin, co-founder of Global Street Art, told Fitzrovia News they are “wholly committed” to the restoration of Jones and Barber’s original artwork.

“We are incredibly proud to have been awarded this project and appreciate the sensitivity around this much loved mural.

“We have undertaken a great amount of research for this project, including a comprehensive digital mapping of the mural, an extensive study of how it looked previously before lower parts were lost to graffiti and how the colours would have looked when the mural was first painted, by looking at the vibrancy of other murals from the period. This thorough research will facilitate us to restore the mural authentically.

“We are strongly committed to a faithful restoration of the mural having initially offered funding for a restoration project with Kristina in 2015. While those initial discussions did not lead to the mural restoration at that time, we are thrilled to now be involved directly with Camden Council in accurately restoring the mural back to its full beauty.

“Since we were founded in 2012 we have organised 2,500 legal murals across London. That number greatly exceeds our commercial projects and we are proud of our extensive history of working with local communities within Camden, having also organised over 100 murals in Camden’s housing estates,” he said.

Councillor Adam Harrison, cabinet member for a sustainable Camden, said:

“The restoration of the Fitzrovia mural is an important part of the West End Project and one of a number of historical restoration and conservation projects we are completing.

“We received a number of high calibre proposals during the tender stage and appointed Global Street Arts to restore the mural fully and historically accurately, replicating both the historical colours and design. Global Street Art have an excellent track record of designing new murals and painting murals designed by others, including high profile locations such as the living wall on Middlesex Street.

“We are excited to be able to ensure that the mural is at long last going to have the restoration it deserves allowing it to once again be enjoyed in its full glory enjoyed by future generations complemented by the rejuvenation of Whitfield Gardens,” said Harrison.

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