Art or not? Burley Banksy’s art boxes painted over in Rothwell
BT says we can’t have nice things anymore
Outrage sparked amongst Leeds locals this week when the artist (and legend) Burley Banksy’s public work was threatened by telecommunications company BT.
Burley Banksy (Andy McVeigh) is best known for brightening up residential areas here in Leeds, by painting over previously unnoteworthy, plain green electricity boxes. His designs are artful, ironic, and often based on local culture. Some are dedicated to the memory of friends and family.
The Tab Leeds spoke to Burley Banksy who said that painting original designs on the local electricity boxes is incredibly important to him: “It’s my therapy! I started doing it for my struggling mental health. I’d never done any art before and found it really took my mind off lots of bad things that were happening all at once.”
It’s not only a project of personal importance as the art boxes are now widely loved by the local Leeds community. Burley Banksy continues to craft these public designs because “so, so, so many people seem to love it, they say it brightens their day, their kids love it, it’s become a positive part of the landscape, people have even said helps them with THEIR mental health.”
He adds that the art boxes have now even become Pokémon Stops (although he good-naturedly admits that he’s still not sure what those are).
Burley resident Dani, 24, told The Leeds Tab: “I love the art boxes specifically because it draws together a lot of different styles and ideas – and because it’s not something I’ve seen anywhere else! It’s a super creative thing that Andy does and especially the Leeds-themed boxes.”
“I don’t follow football so they aren’t sentimental to me, but I love the sense of community it gives!” Dani added: “In the lockdowns, I would plan my route so I could walk past as many as possible as they just made me smile.”
Burley Banksy states that he had permission from both BT and Virgin Media to paint their local electricity boxes (Virgin has continued to approve his designs). He was shocked when some of his designs were destroyed this week, including the ‘You look nice today, Rothwell’ box and the ‘Rothwell Mix Tape’ boxes, which were both covered up without warning by BT.
Leeds locals were outraged, showing support across the internet. A petition has been launched by Leeds resident Julia Rothwell, aiming to be granted allowance for the boxes to be repainted. It reflects the local sentiment towards Burley Banksy’s work: “After a tough year (to put it mildly) most residents of Rothwell have been over the moon to see local artist, Burley Banksy, creating artwork on BT boxes around the area. It’s a wonderful gesture of kindness that has been bringing a smile in difficult times,” the petition page states. “We’d like to demonstrate to BT that the overwhelming majority of residents loved the art and we’d like to show the talented Burley Banksy that we support his work.” As of today, the petition has over 1500 signatures.
We asked Dani what she thought of BT’s move. “I don’t understand what the issue is at all,” she told The Leeds Tab. “The only problem Andy has had in recent times was when some Manchester football supporters threw black paint over them, I wonder if the complaints have come from those who support other teams.”
“It was just so strangely cruel! Why would someone want to ruin something that is so positive and gives a sense of community, especially during the pandemic when we’re arguably more separate (distancing-wise) than ever?”
Burley Banksy claims to know why his art was targeted, after speaking to Local Counsellor Stewart Golton about the matter recently. Golton says that BT decided to remove Burley Banksy’s art after receiving three complaints about them. A whole three. When contacted by The Leeds Tab, Golton said:
Burley Banksy says that BT have still threatened to paint over the remaining box designs, and have also hinted at issuing him with a fine. “Hopefully BT will reverse this PR disaster they’ve created for themselves,” Burley Banksy concluded. Luckily, this hasn’t dampened his artistic spirit; will he continue to create the electricity box designs? “Yes!”
Counsellor Golton also holds hope for the future of public art in the Rothwell area: “Hopefully, the controversy raised on this issue will spark a wider appreciation and involvement in creating public art in our area, and the local councillors hope to develop this idea over the summer.”
Leeds is best known for its unique community spirit and street art; it’s something that we hope is not lost.
The Tab Leeds reached out to multiple representatives from BT and their child company Openreach (which manages the electricity boxes), but no statements were provided.