CREATING legal spaces for graffiti artists to paint their work would help transform attitudes to the art form and be a lasting legacy to Glasgow's Banksy exhibition, according to campaigners.

Calls were made in September last year for Glasgow City Council to rethink the way it deals with graffiti and came following findings that the city spends the most of any UK local authority in removing painting from public spaces.

With fanfare around the fact world-renowned street artist Banksy chose the Gallery of Modern Art to host Cut & Run, artists have moved to highlight the "outdated" attitudes to graffiti in the city.

They say Glasgow is "20 years" behind other metropolitan cities - such as Berlin or Melbourne - where the art form is respected, nurtured and encouraged.

Instead, in Scotland's largest city, graffiti removal is an efficient process where art works are removed as soon as they are reported by a member of the public. 

"I think it's quite amazing for the city to have Banksy here because I feel like Glasgow is maybe 20 years behind most other cities in terms of its attitude towards street art. 

READ MORE: Banksy - how to get tickets to the sold out show

"We're only just now starting to change," says Panda, a Glasgow-based street artist who set up Colour Ways, an artist-led organisation which curates murals with local communities, runs street art workshops with young people and hosts walking tours of the city's graffiti.

"In other cities often what you find is there's some kind of critical mass point when enough people go out and paint the streets. And that creates the demand for it, but in Glasgow, unfortunately, the council's approach to removing graffiti has hindered that." 

In 2020, the city spent £649,000 on graffiti removal - twice the amount of money than the next highest-spending UK council and more than five times the amount of neighbouring North Lanarkshire Council. 

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Panda said his interest in street art was first piqued when he was gifted a Banksy book at the age of 10 and since then "street art has been my whole life".

He says attitudes towards street art in Glasgow lag behind other places because of the amount of tagging in the city, particularly on buildings and public spaces.

But he says that, somewhat counter-intuitively, ceasing to remove tagging and graffiti will lead to an increase in quality of art works and decrease anti-social work. 

Panda added: "A better approach is to have tolerance zones so it's less about policing the content. 

"With graffiti, if you stopped removing tags, within a month or two the place would be covered in tags but then people would realise it was not being removed and they would be motivated to go and do something better there.

"The quality would increase.

"A lot of people just see the tags and think 'This is just such a nuisance', but what you end up with is all this amazing artwork and that's worth the price to pay.

"I hope that we get to a point where people are just going out and painting the streets and it won't be such a big deal.

"But there's always going to be tags and you can't get rid of that because tags are like the life force of people. People like tags, it's a culture, just like any other culture."

In recent years Glasgow has seen a boom in murals being painted on tenement ends, such as the famous St Mungo and Child on High Street, and allowing local community groups or charities to decorate walls.

But Panda and other street artists argue this isn't street art but commercial murals - the antithesis of street art. 

He said: "Most artists have to do commercial work to make money because there isn't really a demand for people's artwork. 

READ MORE: Banksy is vital to the cultural capital of Glasgow 

"However, the way that you create a demand is by painting the streets - but then the council removes it so quickly. They never really get a chance to build up a reputation. 

"I would say the city is very ready for it and Glasgow could be one of the best cities for street art because everybody who comes here [to paint] will be like, 'the city is so friendly'. 

"Instead we are stuck because at some point there was a decision to take a zero tolerance approach to graffiti and politically I'm sure that looked good but it's such an old fashioned mindset because actually street art and graffiti is like a really popular thing now. 

"It's at the vanguard of what is cool a lot of the time and so it's kind of a no-brainer to keep it."

Last week Panda painted a mural in the city's east end on Sunday morning and watched on Monday morning when council staff came to remove it.

He also has experience of creating a public mural - after gaining council permission - with youth groups he works with only to see the removal team take it down. 

He says there is a bit of a cat and mouse dynamic now with the council workers and is on nodding terms with the graffiti removal team's manager. 

Panda said: "One time I asked how they'd managed to remove something so fast as I couldn't believe someone had already reported it and the guy said that he had spotted it and decided to clean it off.

"So they are almost like vigilante removing stuff. Honestly, I see them more than I see my friends."

Panda's early work was discovered by a graffiti blogger who enjoyed his Big Heid work and who would write to the council to complain when it was removed.

The blogger made the argument that the good work should be kept and bad work removed, which is a suggestion often put forward in regards to dealing with street art.

But Panda said: "I think that's problematic because it's very, very subjective. I think, unless it's offensive, all street art should be kept.

"But I've spoke to the graffiti removal manager, they actually don't remove one of my friend's artworks because it's portraits, so to them, because the murals on the gable ends are all portraits, they were like 'Oh, well, that's a portrait so that must be okay.'"

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Members of Glasgow City Council's Green Party last year put forward a motion to develop graffiti policy in the city, which was given cross-party support.

Councillor Christy Mearns said it had been motivated by a recognition that Glasgow's graffiti policy was costing the city an excessive amount of money while also "discouraging legitimate forms of expression".

Her colleague, Councillor Lana Reid-McConnell of the Scottish Greens, who lodged the motion, said having the Banksy exhibition in Glasgow "presents an amazing moment to launch some initial legal walls for artists in Glasgow".

Ms Mears added said: "Allowing space in the city for graffiti tackles the issues of anti-social behaviour, creates diversity, and also encourages more creativity while letting street art flourish at the same time. 

"I think that we can do that by having a slightly different approach.

"So rather than just automatically removing anything that we see, we should be potentially assessing what people are doing and also encouraging more spaces for people to legitimately use.

"As a result, we might see less of this antisocial graffiti, because that really is an act of defiance and you can see why because of the culture of removal that we have in Glasgow at the moment.

"That is clearly not working because we're spending way more than average, in terms of the UK spend."

A Glasgow City Council spokesperson said discussions are ongoing as to "best strike a balance between removing graffiti while also supporting street art and that includes the consideration of a legal graffiti wall."

She added that a paper on the graffiti wall should be brought before councillors in the autumn.

Panda said the "accessibility" of street art allows new artists and young people to make an impact very quickly - and taking a more permissible approach could improve the whole city.

He said: "That's what's so appealing about it. We have a lot of people who aren't active in any way in the city, who aren't engaged in how it operates.

"Picking up a can of spray paint is a very immediate way to have an impact on the city. With 10foot, one man with a spray can has managed to create a global brand with as much impact as, say Coca Cola.

"Now this one guy is so, so synonymous with London without a multi-million pound marketing budget.

"It gives you a sense of agency and so many people lack a sense of agency and that's why the city ends up a bit run down feeling."

The Herald asked Glasgow Life, which runs the Gallery of Modern Art, whether there were plans to support an ongoing legacy following the Banksy exhibition.

The organisation was not drawn on the specifics but Gareth James, Museum Manager from GoMA, said: “Cut & Run has really captured the public’s imagination and opened up street art to an even wider audience across the city. 

"Hosting Banksy is a continuation of our renowned socially engaged programme. 

"We hope that those who have come to GoMA for the first time will become regular visitors and engage in the many other great exhibitions and activities we stage at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art."

A second street artist, who asked not to be named, said his work is featured on a wall along the River Clyde at Glasgow city centre and said the council should strongly consider keeping the murals in place there.

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He said: "The work along the Clydeside is vibrant and challenging and has grown organically. It's the ideal position for it because the space is huge but also slightly out of the way so no one is impinging on anyone else's space.

"It's an ever-changing public gallery in Glasgow as people come and paint then re-paint over the existing work. Sights like this are common in other cities but in Glasgow it becomes a battle between the artist, the council and the cops - which is madly outdated thinking."

Panda also backed calls to designate the wall at the River Clyde on the Broomielaw a legal space. He said: "A few of us have all been painting that wall for the last couple of years but it was all removed for COP26.

"Legal walls are very, very important because they create a public place where people can do it, which de-mystifies it and lets people see the creativity and skill involved.

"It also encourages people to do their best work because you know people are going to see it, there are loads of graffiti bloggers around the city now.

"People are also painting obscure and unsafe places, so having a legal wall makes it safer and opens it up to a much wider cohort of people.

"Not everyone is going to want to go and paint in an abandoned building, and I don't imagine women are too happy to do that alone.

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"It's so vilified that you have to go to abandoned fringes of the city, and adds to the illegal feeling of it, of doing something bad."

Ms Mearns stressed that "poor quality and offensive graffiti" must be removed but added: "During the Banksy exhibition there's an argument that we should be bringing one of these walls forward and doing something now, because we know that we have a wealth of creative talent in the city, including lots of female street artists who we've not seen enough of until more recent times. 

"We want to see a positive legacy coming out of this exhibition and this can be a relatively easy one that we can take forward."