An art gallery in an underpass?

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Henry II whipped in the street by Henry Cockburn

By Jan Pahl

Canterbury residents are raising money to transform the pedestrian underpass which goes under the railway line in St Dunstan’s Street. The initial target was to raise enough money to paint the underpass, decorate it with paintings and make this ‘Art Gallery in an Underpass’ graffiti-proof.  Many people have already given generously. However, with more money it would be possible to paint the hand rails, improve the lighting and renovate the roof supports.  So, the group is now going for a target of £5000.   

What’s the problem?

Hundreds of people walk through the St Dunstan’s Street pedestrian underpass every day.  Most hate the graffiti and deplore the neglected state of the subway, but it is a convenient route when the level crossing gates are closed.  The Canterbury Society and the St Dunstan’s Residents’ Association have been concerned about the situation for years and have pressed the authorities to take action. However, until now it seemed impossible to do anything about it.

The turning point came when some funding was made available by Willmott Dixon, the developers, and the City Council promised to match this sum.  The City Council then contacted the Canterbury Society to see whether further funds could be raised.  Generous contributions came from our County Councillors and City Councillors and from Network Rail and Canterbury Cathedral.  But there was still a short fall and local people were asked to help.

Why is help needed?

There are three reasons why this is a very special project and why help is needed.

First, the project will create a clean, bright and pleasant public space in what is now a dank and dingy subway. The walls will be cleaned and painted and covered with anti-graffiti coating so that any new graffiti can be cleaned off with soap and water. The work will be done by Wallspace, who carried out the renovation of the Wincheap roundabout underpass. 

Secondly, the underpass will be decorated with original works by a young local artist. Henry Cockburn’s paintings of Canterbury have already been exhibited in the Lilford Gallery and at Espressions and are much admired for their vivid and attractive portrayal of life in our city.  Selected paintings will be photographed and embedded in a special wrap, similar to that used in the Wincheap underpass. The result will add to the public art available for the enjoyment of both local people and visitors: this could be the first ever ‘Art Gallery in an Underpass’.

Thirdly, the project will commemorate an important historical event. In 1170 King Henry II walked barefoot down St Dunstan’s Street to do penance for his part in the murder of Thomas Becket. The year 2020 marks the 850th anniversary of the death of Becket, and many celebrations are planned in Canterbury and elsewhere. Henry Cockburn is working on a special painting for the underpass, which will commemorate the event and will ensure that this part of the Becket story is not forgotten.

What can you do?

Contributions are invited now to support a real community project. Donations will help to renovate this neglected subway, will add to the public art which local people and visitors can enjoy and will commemorate an important event in the history of Canterbury.  


You can make a donation to the project by clicking here.

Further information from: J.M.Pahl@kent.ac.uk.

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