Bringing Nu life to the streets of Aberdeen

Over the last two years street artists from around the world have been adding a touch of colour to the Granite City.

While the traditional buildings still sparkle in the sun, behind the main thoroughfare of Aberdeen lies magnificent pieces of art, of which some have been dubbed among the best in the world.

Last month thousands flocked to the streets of Aberdeen during the opening weekend of the Nuart Festival 2018.

But the impact the pieces have on the economy and the overall footfall extend far beyond that of the launch.

Adrian Watson, chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired – the Business Improvement District (BID) behind bringing the festival to Aberdeen, said he believes it has helped lift the city when it was down.

He said: “Who would have thought an event like this would ever come to Aberdeen?

“That is still a key issue for us. We all know about the difficulties the city has been through. It is well documented that oil and gas was taking a bit of a downturn and there was discussion in the city that there needed to be a change, and I think Nuart has been one of those.

“Other people have a perception of our city and for once we seem to be talking ourselves up.

“There needs to be a positive narrative and Nuart allows for that. We need to unshackle ourselves from this north-east psyche of always putting ourselves down. We can’t afford to do that anymore.

“Nuart is an example of that. Would this have been accepted in our city streets four or five years ago? There would have been reasons not to do it. The city has been bold enough to take it here. Stavanger chose us as much as we chose them and we are thankful of that.”

Nuart came to Aberdeen in 2017 and has involved artists from countries as far as Argentina, Lithuania, Norway and Portugal decorating buildings in the city centre.

The festival began in Stavanger in Norway and has been brought to the north-east to brighten up city streets which lead from the Green through St Nicholas Lane, Union Row, Langstane Place to a finish on Holburn Street.

This year work by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharvic, which depicts a young child climbing up a wall alongside two gulls, was the signature piece painted on the side of Union Plaza.

All the pieces will remain on the buildings permanently, creating a lasting legacy,

But in order to take Nuart to the city streets it costs money. Around £250,000 is spent each year picking renowned street artists and bringing them into the north-east.

Mr Watson added: “We have had some great support from the council but we can’t always rely on them to pay for everything.

“We have relied on them, to an extent, with Nuart but I would like to think it has given them a dividend back.

“We put our business money into the projects as well and that is important to us. As far as BIDs go there are more than 300 in the UK.

“We are in the top three that go above the levy. We collect about £800,000 a year and a lot of people would think that is a modest sum.

“We almost double that on sponsorship and funding from projects we do. For every pound we take in we put £2 back into the city centre.

“It’s not just about the festival weekend, they are about every day for as long as those wonderful world-class pieces are up there.”

Mr Watson said the festival has already helped to bring art fans from around the globe into the north-east.

He said: “Nuart has a following now internationally and globally because of Instagram. Of all the festivals in the north-east of Scotland Nuart hits the mark, and why wouldn’t it visually? It bodes well for the future. The knock-on effects. Why would a BID be behind something like this?

“We are not a cultural BID, we are not here to threaten the establishment ,we need to work together.

“My old boss in the police said to me, ‘if you get your city centre right you get your region right’. It is no different in business. Everyone has a view on the city centre and Nuart has been a real stimulus.

“It seems to create an overwhelming feeling of positivity. From a Nuart perspective we need to build on that and continue to put forward ambitious projects, and we need the city and all the partners to get behind us.”

Steven Bothwell, proprietor of Cafe52, which is based on The Green said business has rocketed there since the mural was placed on the side of the market.

He said: “The Nuart Festival is transforming the city centre into a wonderful and cultural place for residents and visitors to enjoy. The footfall in the Green has rocketed since the mural on the market was painted and at any time of the day someone will be taking photographs and talking about art.

“Café 52 provided the hospitality for all the artists and organisers and the atmosphere in The Green has been amazing.

“It’s been absolutely brilliant seeing thousands of people on the art tours and it has introduced people to parts of the city they didn’t know existed. All the people involved have been fantastic and the city centre feels more positive, happier, civilised and more embracing than ever before. I love it.”

As well as Aberdeen Inspired and the council’s contribution to the festival, law firm Burness Paull and Aberdeen Standard Investments also put their money behind it.

Elaine Farquharson-Black, partner at Burness Paull, said: “Festivals such as Nuart not only enrich Aberdeen’s cultural offering for locals and visitors, they also boost the local economy by increasing footfall and investment in leisure and hospitality businesses and portray the city as a vibrant and exciting place to live, work and invest in.

“Major infrastructure projects such as the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route and the expansion of the harbour and the airport are all helping Aberdeen to enhance its image, but we believe festivals such as Nuart are equally crucial in attracting both tourists and investment.

“It’s now more important than ever for Aberdeen to consider how it presents itself to the wider world, and developing and attracting more major cultural events can help put the city firmly on the map with global audiences.”

The Press and Journal
21st May 2018