Can Culture be bought (with a quarter) or does it come from the underground?

Over the last year or so graffiti owls have been popping up around Stoke on Trent , I love to spot each new creation admiring both the design, and to ponder on the artists motivate to share his work and bring pleasure to many (not all I know) with no formal recognition. A quiet pleasure with giver and receiver unknown to each, like a silent nod or good morning as you pass a stranger in the street.

But this was made louder and more public this week when The Sentinel pubished a Story “Twit twoo is city’s mystery artist?” I was both excited and worried reading the story, I was interested to hear from other that enjoyed a secret pleasure in spotting the owls, but worried it may lead The Authorities to begin a mass cull of the Owls.

So begin an evening exploring and research (messing on Google) to try and discover any background on the Owl, during which I stumbled across Rob Fenton, a graduate graphic designer/illustrator/artist from Stoke-on-Trent who is the founder of creative company & collective NTRPRNRS (entrepreneurs). I asked if he had any comment to make on the Owls and he replied with the below, which I found to be a very powerful and positive message which I though needed sharing.

Throughtout my life I have taken a keen interest in street art & graffiti and followed it’s developments from around the world. Over the past several years I have been developing a business that will not only exist as a physical premises within the city and sell materials for street artists but to introduce quality work of this kind and beyond for business’s to hire and to work alongside the council to create vast public art murals particularly within the city centre’s cultural quarter. We have been working as a creative community of photographers, artists, illustrators, designers and dj’s across the UK but finally started to develop within the city. We have worked in ‘The Famous Lion’ pub in Stoke (See attached pictures) and soon to be on the ‘Traditional Barbers’ Piccadilly Hanley and ‘The Sugarmill’ Club Hanley.

Having explained a little about ourselves, I can honestly only give praise to the mysterious ‘Owl artist’ who is painting buildings within this city also. Knowing how long a process it is for us to get large public pieces of artwork to cover the dull buildings and shutters (look up Upfest Bristol to see what they do yearly) within the city it is nothing short of a surprise that this character is doing it off their own back and in their own way. He/She is clearly motivated enough to want to make a change? Stoke seems obsessed with one piece of it’s history (that being pottery of course) and shows no signs of progressing into a diverse hub of art cultures like our neighbouring cities Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham etc. All these cities have an active art scene on a mass scale. They hire graffiti artists to turn around it’s brick horizons and the people of those cities not only embrace the new work but love it! Sheffield Artist ‘FaunaGraphic’ (see picture below) was hired to paint on the side of a youth hostel in Manchester’s Cultural Quarter… what does stoke have to this affect?

I can only hope and keep my fingers crossed that we see more of what this character has to offer as I feel this city needs more than just a new bus station and shopping centre to pull us into the modern day! As for it being a viral advert for the city museum, no chance, they wouldn’t take that risk I don’t believe. Having read comments on the sentinel website I think peoples ideas that the owl is some form of overseer to the regeneration of the city is ludicrous, too many artists, with far too much fantastical thinking for my personal taste, but having said that only the artist themselves knows why they are doing this. Either way playful creativity like this breaks mediocrity, I know myself and people who have seen them, want more!

I have also attached a project/proposal that I have been working with Stoke Cultural Development team with for the past 18months and am now attempting to get Highways Agency involved with to turn around a mis/disused underpass on the Newcastle/Stoke border. I feel passionate towards the future of this style of art within our city, we need to encourage people to come, stay and create in Stoke. In whatever form.

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