The name ‘Barton’ is synonymous with Beeston – see elsewhere in this issue about how the latest generation are transforming the town – but Jeanie O’Shea, formerly Barton, is making her mark in a rather more visual style than most.
After living in London for 17 years, jazz musician Jeanie decided to move back to her hometown with her husband, Will. While she found the town full of creatives – musicians, poets, writers, directors – “I couldn’t help but notice that such a ‘vibrant community’ wasn’t reflected on the streets: the town looked…well, a bit dull, in contrast to its talents”. She joined Facebook groups and found similar ongoing conversations, and together they decided that some street art might brighten the place up (and maybe make the place known for more than just having 5 funeral parlours).
Years later, street art is something that Beeston is known for. A variety of styles, from ther more ‘traditional’ urban New York aesthetic, to the solemn, ghostly ‘Canary Girls’ loading shells on the wall of the Victory Club; from the beautiful shock of butterflies on Chilwell Road to the dashing figure of Owen Jones, gone in life, immortalised in paint above the town.
Then, of course, is the piece that grabs the attention, situated alongside the main through road. Beeston’s own Mount Rushmore, a once dull blank wall now proudly showing off three of the town’s best known figures: Sir Paul Smith, Richard Beckinsale, and soul legend Edwin Starr (Starr can also be credited with playing a part in bringing this magazine into being: after working on a story trying to explain why, after rising from Nashville into international fame, he moved to Beeston. After reaching the conclusion ‘He didn’t like the look of Wollaton’ I decided Beeston had a weirdness that could be worth documenting).
This mural, put together by internationally-renowned French artist Zabou attracts huge attention from visitors to the town. Alongside the wonderful blue plaques scheme, it shows a town confident in itself, proud of those who have risen from here. It’s a statement of intent: the town’s creative vibrancy caught on walls, surprising, beguiling, sometimes beautiful. Jeanie’s energy – ”This was a hobby that took over” – and ability to galvanise business owners, the local authority, artists and most importantly, Beestonians has been nothing short of wondrous, and testament to the power of vision.
Of course, with anything that involves art – which by its very nature is a subjective thing – there are those who aren’t keen. “We call them the 11%” says Jeanie “After polling the town we found that’s about the number who object to the project. And that’s fine, people will always differ in opinion on art. People can sometimes assume that street art is straightforward graffiti, and in turn that is vandalism, rather than taking ownership of their hometown with art”.
We are already subject to vast amounts of imagery in public places, via advertising billboards, and seldom does that complement, reflect or lend ownership to a town. Yet you see few people moaning about the ubiquitous profusion of aesthetic clutter.
It’s also worth remembering that, 30-odd years ago, when the Beeman (actually The Beeston Seat) first appeared in the town, the town was split. As the sculptor was putting it into place, residents, assuming she was just a helper, told her how vile it was. The letters page of the Nottingham Evening Post were full of angry tirades of this ‘waste of money’. It was even attacked by some militant Beestonians, and had to undergo repairs.
Now, it is not just embedded into our community, but emblematic. It’s a focus point, as well as a plaything for kids to explore and those weary of leg to perch down for a breather. The Beeman to many is Beeston, and if the council were to announce it’s removal, there would be uproar.
Similarly, it’s worth thinking of what would happen if the (admittedly vocal) minority got their way and jet-washers were deployed to rid us of the art. Again, uproar. The street art is seeping into our identity: or at least 89% of us!
The Beestonian is a huge supporter of the project, and in awe at Jeanie’s work to improve her patch. Perhaps one day her face will adorn a wall, as part of the next generation of great Beestonians. Watch this as yet unpainted space.
(This article was put together with the help of the budding journos on the Notts College Level 3 journalism course: HA,AA,JB,SC,GC,EC,MD,GE,JG,SG,LH, MH,BL,JL,AM,CM, CP, KS,CS, YS,PT,NT. Ta, journos!)