The Viking takeover of Waterford over one thousand years ago established the city as a centre of trade, a site of defence, and a safe haven. This tribe of innovative warriors created Waterford’s impressive landscape, with its towering fortresses and expanse of walls, nestled away from the choppy Irish sea.
The city’s Viking imprint has gifted us with a rich heritage and a treasure trove of archaeological discovery. Just five years ago, a new tribe descended on our city to make their mark here. The inaugural Waterford Walls International Street Art Festival welcomed twenty-five street artists to Waterford, immersing us in a kaleidoscope of art and colour and transforming our walls into an outdoor gallery. Collectively, we began to revive a place that had fallen into disrepair.
Inspiration from abroad
“The idea for this festival came to me after a visit to the ancient town of Erriadh in Tunisia in 2014. Known as the Djerbahood Project, they had invited over one-hundred street artists to take over public space with street art. Their artwork there not only transformed the area, but it also brought life back into the walls, and instilled in the community a sense of hope, inspiration and purpose” says founder and project manager, Edel Tobin.
“The project stuck a chord with me as I noticed great parallels between Erriadh and my own city. It was amazing to see first-hand how a small idea can balloon into something incredible. When I returned home, I approached local artist Louise Flynn, who came on board as our curator. Together we recruited a small and dedicated team of volunteers, and Waterford Walls was born.”
When the Waterford Walls team began this project, nothing similar was happening in Ireland, let alone in Waterford. But the festival has been a catalyst for similar festivals and community-based initiatives in Waterford and the surrounding region, such as our year-long guided art trails. We’ve also seen the emergence of other creative projects, such as the All Together Now music and arts festival, and the opening of the Waterford Greenway.
The local authority now see Waterford Walls as a collaborating partner in their planning and development of the city. So much so, that they partnered with Waterford Walls to apply for European Funding for Murals for Communities, a murals initiative with two other European cities (Heerlen in the Netherlands, and Kaunas in Lithuania), to implement murals with underrepresented communities in these cities.
There is now a new energy and ambition to regenerate the city – in particular the O’Connell St. area of the city which has been earmarked as the future Cultural Quarter for Waterford.
As cities become homogenised by corporate culture and gentrification, Waterford Walls is contributing to a greater movement to subvert public space. They are helping the community to see and celebrate alternative forms of art. Edel Tobin adds, “There is a new energy here and a desire to tell stories about who we are as a society. We may not be Vikings, but collectively we’re creating a legacy, just as they did.”
Waterford Walls festival 2019 takes place from 22-25 August.