Street artists fight to keep their art on the walls of Dublin

The artists of Subset are determined to end the longstanding argument regarding public art and planning permission.

After several disputes over the last ten years, Dublin City Council is now taking the art collective, known as Subset, to court for supposed breaches of the city’s planning laws.  

Subset has decided to fight legal proceedings in relation to three of their murals with the goal of changing the regulations on street art in Dublin.  

One of the murals Dublin City Council wants removed, depicting David Attenborough. Image: Subset

Who is Subset? 

Subset is an anonymous Street Artist Collective with ever-changing members. In years past, they have worked on murals all over Dublin city, aiming to spread awareness for different issues such as homelessness and global warming.

Through their work, Subset represents the concept of street art as contemporary and reflective and by extension spontaneous and reactive. 

A legislative game of cat and mouse

As a result of this understanding of street art there have been many disputes with Dublin City Council over the past decade. All of Subset’s murals have been painted with permission and consultation of the buildings occupants or owners, but did not have the all-clear from the city’s planning department.  

According to current planning laws, the collective must apply separately for each mural. The amount of time these bureaucratic procedures can take may detract from Subset’s aim of spontaneity and impact in their art.

Consequently, Subset were hit with a series of letters from Dublin City Council ordering to remove their artwork from certain walls around Dublin.

“There have been multiple artworks which have come under the same scrutiny as the three we are now facing legal proceedings in respect of,” said a spokesperson of Subset.

“We removed these pieces because at that time we did not have the experience, knowledge or confidence to challenge our city council in a legal hearing,“ they added.

One of the murals Subset has had to remove. Image: Subset

However, things change – Subset has now decided to enter court with Dublin City Council over three murals. They include a mural depicting world-famous documentarian and climate activist David Attenborough, another known as “horseboy” and a third mural painted to mark mental health month.  

The mural called ‘Horseboy’ in Smithfield. Image: Subset

The court hearing is on June 16th, with Subset looking forward to their chance to argue their position. 

“We decided to take this step to bring this long drawn out argument regarding public art and planning permission to a conclusion. Rather than fold under applied legal pressure or bend the knee to archaic bureaucracy, we decided we would have our day in court,” said a spokesperson from Subset.

“For us courage is valued over conformity.“ 

Subset spokesperson

By entering court Subset aims to lay the foundation for new planning laws – ones that support the creative flow rather than interrupting it. 

Liberalising street art 

In 2018 Subset released a video documentary calling on the city council to change its regulations on street art however, no action was ever taken.

After several years of back and forth they hope to come to a conclusion and to end the barriers for artists in Dublin. 

“Our aim is to liberalise street art. Therefore it is important that artists and property owners are allowed to paint their walls by following an easy process“, said Subset.

“We believe street art is a tool for social engagement and the development of personal practice and that is how it should be reflected.“ 

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