INTERESTING clause in Camden Council’s deal to sell the Town Hall extension in King’s Cross coming up this year: the buyer must remove the stencil of a protesting rat left by street artist Banksy and hand it back to the council. It is currently, possibly not quite in the basic wandering spirit of street art, protected by a Perspex screen at the back of the building and the council are very fond of it.
In fact, the desperation to protect this surprise asset began many years, when the Liberal Democrats and the Tories were in charge between 2006 and 2010. Internal e-mails, released to me after a Freedom of Information Act request, showed the then council treasurer Councillor Janet Grauberg warning staff: “Since hearing about the Banksy on the Town Hall I have seen several books about his work. While I understand the issues about graffiti, it is quite clear this is something different and we would be in a lot of trouble if we just got rid of it.”
The same sentiment was not applied, by the way, when another Banksy left in Camden Town was protected with a similar screen by a private home-owner. It had to come down, the council ordered, and when it did the stencil of boy blowing bubbles was vandalised.
Back to the council building – the same emails revealed attempts to go as far as insuring the artwork. Senior officer Stuart Dilley, however, wrote in the chain of messages: “I have also spoken to our Insurance Section to see if our brokers can offer cover against damage/vandalism but they have advised that this is not possible.”
Maybe it’s no surprise then, that as they sell the building to developers, the terms of the deal are being made plain: Banksy not included.