A year ago this week the Glastonbury Mural Trail was launched as part of Somerset Art Weeks. Murals have been part of Glastonbury life for decades – at least since the 1960s when Pat Leyshon decorated the front of Pat Li Shun, her business at the top of the High Street, with colourful flowers – and have always sparked controversy. I have been visiting Glastonbury since the 1990s, and for years have been aware of various murals springing up around the town (and sometimes disappearing again by my next visit), but the Mural Trail took the concept to a whole new level. When I came to live in Glastonbury this summer, one of the first things I did was to pick up a Trail leaflet at the Glastonbury Information Centre, grab my camera, and walk the Trail.
Following the Trail was great fun – the murals are not always in obvious places, or easy to find, and that’s part of the appeal, as it becomes a kind of artistic treasure hunt. It was a great way to explore parts of the town I didn’t know, sparking many conversations as I enlisted the help of passers-by in searching for elusive murals. The Glastonbury Mural Trail is also a showcase of serious artistic talent. The variety of styles, subjects and scale means there must be something here for everyone, and I even came across a few that weren’t on the Trail Map (I was to find out why later). There’s still one I haven’t found, because it’s in a pub garden and I just haven’t been organised enough to get there when the pub is open.
Having enjoyed the Mural Trail so much, I wanted to know more about how it came to exist, and what the motivations behind it were, so I arranged to meet Kim von Coels, who facilitated the creation of the Trail for last year’s Somerset Arts Weeks. Socially distanced in the garden of her Glastonbury home, Kim tells me that there had previously been a leaflet produced by Jim and Caroline at the Pilgrim Reception Centre, listing the then existing murals. Kim – who, like me, loves maps – had produced a Glastonbury town map, and was approached by the Town Clerk, Gerard Tucker, to design a map of the murals. She agreed, but only if the Town Council would give its blessing to the creation of new murals (subject to the necessary permissions). The project was born.
A Facebook group was set up, and its members started researching the possibilities. They found that, even in a conservation area, murals could be painted in most locations, with the permission of the wall owner, provided that the wall had been previously rendered or was of block construction, and that the subject matter was not offensive.
Next came callouts – for artists who wanted to paint murals, for owners of walls who wanted murals, and for businesses willing to cover the costs with sponsorship. Between April and September of 2019 Kim operated a kind of matchmaking service, connecting artists, wall owners and sponsors, and getting the necessary permissions. As an example, she tells the story of the mural in Bere Lane, where the owner of the wall was keen to have a Viking theme for their mural, which meant that she was able to get sponsorship from Wyrdraven, the Viking shop in town.
The involvement of local businesses was key, says Kim, and Jill Barker of the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism helped make this happen. Nobody got paid – there were just a few small honorariums for artist who would not otherwise have been able to participate – but sponsorship ensured that no one was out of pocket. Support was both financial, and in kind (for example from Thorndown Paints), with some firms sponsoring the project as a whole and others sponsoring specific walls (for details of all sponsors, see the Glastonbury Mural Trail leaflet). All wanted it to be good and successful, and the Town Council paid for the Mural Trail to be part of Somerset Art Weeks in September 2019. At the official opening at the skate park, hundreds of people turned up, and Kim admits to being “totally blown away” by the positive response.
What, I wondered, gives Kim most satisfaction about the project? She has no hesitation in replying. For her, the joy is that it’s free, it’s accessible to anyone, whenever you want – it’s public, it’s always open. And it cheers people up and makes them happy. It has, she admits, been a lot of hard work, but she wants there to be murals, to have people able to paint them, and people able to enjoy them. She loves that people who normally don’t like graffiti are embracing the murals. Kim feels it’s important that the subject matter of the mural is “universally pleasant – who doesn’t like nature, flowers, animals, landscapes? It’s great when art creates a conversation but that’s not what the Mural Trail is for.” Public art, says Kim, “makes people proud of where they live” and she’s keen to take the Mural Trail beyond the main thoroughfares into “the corners” of the town.
Kim has herself collaborated in the painting of four of the Trail’s murals – whichever way I walk from home to the High Street I pass one of her creations! I ask her which is her own favourite, and she replies that she is very fond of the mural at the side of Abbey Park (number 25 on the current map) as it was painted by Oksana Gaidasheva from one of Kim’s photographs.
The Glastonbury Mural Trail continues to grow. At the time of the launch there were 26 murals, and Kim estimates that there are another 7 or 8 now – she thinks the total will be up to 36 by the time she produces the revised Trail leaflet in a few weeks. Some have just happened – especially during lockdown – and then she is told about them so that she can add them to the Trail. In other cases, artists contact her – “find me a wall!” – although that’s getting ever harder as “there are only so many walls!”
Kim von Coels is an artist and photographer. She also works at Heart of the Tribe, a new gallery in Glastonbury. You can read more about the Glastonbury Mural Trail, and download a leaflet, here. There is also a Glastonbury Mural Trail page on Facebook. For more about colourful Glastonbury, take a look at this post on the Normal for Glastonbury blog.