The Lasting Legacy Of Banksy’s Dismaland

The street artist’s “bemusement park” shut down a year ago, but it's still changing everything for this town.

19/08/2016 11:12 PM AEST | Updated 22/08/2016 3:49 AM AEST
Matthew Baker via Getty Images
The site of Banksy's Dismaland "bemusement park" in Weston-super-Mare, England, doesn't look like this anymore.

The swathes of street art, spoof fairground rides, derelict Cinderella castle and notoriously grumpy staff are all history ― Banksy’s so-called Dismaland is no more.

In the place of the “bemusement park,” currently, is a real-life fun fair.

Lee Moran

However, Funland, like Dismaland, certainly isn’t the final chapter in the story of the Tropicana ― the 10,000-square-foot former swimming pool complex in Weston-super-Mare, southwest England.

The Huffington Post visited the site to see how it’s changed since elusive artist Banksy opened his sinister take on a theme park there on Aug. 21, 2015 ― and to find out how it’ll be further developed in the coming years. 

This is what Dismaland visitors saw during the five-week pop-up show:

Matthew Horwood via Getty Images

The iconic sign has gone, replaced with one for Funland.

Lee Moran

The airport-style cardboard security checking area has been scrapped.

Yui Mok/PA Archive

Remnants from the show remain, but the space is now vacant.

Lee Moran

This nightmarish fairytale castle has been torn down:

Kristian Buus via Getty Images

And there’s a working fun fair in its place.

Lee Moran

Banksy’s “Grim Reaper” exhibit has disappeared.

Jim Dyson via Getty Images

It’s now the “Reaper Bar” and performance space.

Lee Moran

The main exhibition hall was a focal point of the Banksy show.

Toby Melville / Reuters

It’s now empty.

Lee Moran

This room hosted artist Jimmy Cauty’s dystopian model village:

Lee Moran

It’s also now just a shell.

Lee Moran

The spoof fairground attractions have been taken away.

Lee Moran

And have been replaced by these functioning ones:

Lee Moran

And there’s also a ton of new street art by local artists. Click below for a slideshow of their work:

What’s Next For Dismaland?

Dismaland technically ceased to exist as soon as Banksy and the exhibition’s 58 featured artists left the Tropicana in September and sent their construction materials to the makeshift refugee and migrant encampments near Calais, France.

The site was then returned to its owners at the local authority, North Somerset Council, which had shut down the 1930s-built outdoor swimming pool complex in 2000 due to low visitor numbers.

Here’s what the Tropicana looked like in its heyday:

“It had become very weary and needed a lot of capital investment,” said Mark MacGregor, who is in charge of transforming the venue on behalf of the authority.

Several major companies made proposals to redevelop the site, but all fell at the final hurdle and none made a serious commitment. 

“So we were left with a derelict building,” MacGregor said. “We tried to knock it down but there was an outcry as it’s in a conservation area. The U.K. government stepped in and we had to keep it.”

Video shows the derelict Tropicana before Banksy took it over:

Faced with either putting resources into upkeep for a shuttered venue or breathing some life back into the space, the authority opted for the latter and renovated the cafe area. That, MacGregor said, was coincidentally when Banksy’s team first approached the authority about taking over the facility for the artist’s curated show.

“It blew us away,” he said.

After the exhibition ― which attracted about 150,000 visitors and pumped a reported £20 million, or about $26 million, into the local economy ― ended, it was essential for the North Somerset Council to seize on the global publicity it had gained.

“But we couldn’t conjure up another Dismaland,” MacGregor said. “So we made a commitment to finding a future for the site that would hopefully be financially self-sustaining.”

Unable to subsidize a major arts venue, the authority is now working with renowned British designer Wayne Hemingway to regenerate the old Tropicana ― with a pop-up motel, skate park and drive-in cinema all being floated as potential ideas. It’s also looking for a director to spearhead developing the space as a creative and cultural hub. 

“We wanted to capture the timbre of what Banksy had done,” MacGregor explained. “So arts on the edge of mainstream would be good, but it can’t always do the subsidized edgy art thing, it has to pay its way.”

He stressed the venue’s transformation would “take time” ― hence the appearance of Funland and a series of other concerts, theater shows and music festivals ― but said the development was happening “organically.”

“We’re keen for it to be an evolving space so we’re letting people who rent it pretty much do what they want, so long as they don’t damage the fabric of the building,” MacGregor said. “It’s a cheap way of doing it. We’re not making it too polished and leaving things exposed. It is, after all, about preserving the legacy of Dismaland.”

Ben Birchall/PA Archive
Blur's Damon Albarn joined De La Soul on stage during a concert at Banksy's Dismaland.

How Dismaland Is Still Reviving Its Host Town

Dismaland left Weston-super-Mare about a year ago, but the town is still experiencing a major tourist boost. 

“In the last month as well as the many Dutch, German and French visitors that come to stay, our guest houses have seen visitors from Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, Canada and Scandinavia,” said Debbie Matthews, consultant for the official tourism body Love Weston.

“Dismaland put the town in the international spotlight,” she added, saying there was “no doubt whatsoever” that Banksy’s show had “brought visitors that would not normally have ever considered it in their travel itinerary.”

John Penrose, the Member of Parliament for Weston-super-Mare, said Dismaland was “amazing publicity, the kind that money can’t buy.”

The Weston Mercury, the town’s newspaper, reported in June that the number of overseas visitors had rocketed from just 19,000 in 2014 to 33,000 in 2015.

That upsurge in tourists continues to further revive the town of around 90,000 residents, which was one of Britain’s most popular seaside resorts until the arrival of package vacation deals to continental Europe in the 1960s, Matthews said.

“As far as the legacy goes, Weston-super-Mare will always be remembered for the summer Banksy created Dismaland,” she said. “Our job as the official tourism organization is to show that Weston-super-Mare has plenty to offer, and off of the back of Dismaland, there is no better time than this to give our resort the promotion it deserves.”

Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive
Artist Darren Cullen, whose spoof "Pocket Money Loans" store gained him international attention during Dismaland, credits the show for changing his life.

Dismaland also proved to be a life-altering experience for some of the artists Banksy featured in the show.

“It changed everything for me,” said Darren Cullen, who became famous for his mock “pocket money loans” store at Dismaland. 

“I’d been scraping by on benefits and working out of my bedroom up until that point,” he said. “But those five weeks by the seaside led to me being able to get a studio, some actual art equipment and start work on much larger projects.” 

Tony Howell via Getty Images
Tourist numbers to the southwest English town of Weston-super-Mare have been boosted in the year since Dismaland.

Penrose, the Weston-super-Mare MP, said the town was now firmly “in the minds of people who wouldn’t normally have thought of visiting us.”

“Banksy changed attitudes about Weston, both locally and around the world,” he added. 

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