If you haven’t yet downloaded the ARTWalk Port Talbot app and explored the town’s dozens of murals, now is the time to do it, because the street gallery is bigger and better than ever.
If you visit Port Talbot by train, then as you leave the station, one of the first things you’ll see is a stunning new mural inspired by the work of local poet Derek Davies. It reads “Port Talbot is a colourful town” and is the latest addition to ARTWalk Port Talbot, a project that has filled the town with street art over the past three years. When the art trail launched with its accompanying app, it featured about 12 pieces of graffiti. Now there are over 40.
The latest mural was funded by Neath Port Talbot Council and the Arts Council Wales, with the aim of giving people a warm welcome to the town.
“Derek Davies wrote a poem called “Port Talbot is a colourful town and now we’ve got those words on this huge, beautiful, colourful mural featuring the industry and the heritage of the town,” says Art Walk project coordinator Paul Jenkins. “Historically, it’s been seen as a slightly drab, urban industrial landscape. But that’s all changing, especially since street art has exploded, but it’s also to do with the character of the people in the town. Port Talbot really is an extraordinary place and a lot of people have great things to say about its community.”
ARTWalk Port Talbot began in the summer of 2020. COVID was at its height and the walk was one of the few COVID-safe arts attractions in the country.
“It was nice for people to download the free app, get out of their houses and go and do something cultural that was good for their physical and mental health,” says Paul.
This wasn’t the only motivation behind the walk. It was also sparked by the knowledge that the famous Port Talbot Banksy mural was soon going to leave the town. “At the same time, we were aware that there was a fantastic amount of local street art and local street artists who hadn’t really been noticed that much outside of Port Talbot until the arrival of the Banksy shone a spotlight on what was going on in the town,” says Paul. He and other members Port Talbot arts community started to hatch a plan for an app-guided street art tour. He was especially interested in the project as he’s also a theatre director who is working on a musical about the Port Talbot Banksy.
Meanwhile, a group of artists and locals who had been campaigning to keep the Banksy in Port Talbot had developed into a group that wanted to promote street art in the town. “I’d been interviewing them because of the theatre play, so it all came together in that way in a very organic way,” says Paul. “We really wanted to make sure the Banksy would leave a legacy for the town, to make sure that there was a platform for local street artists, and also bring in other high profile street artists from around the country. We realised that there was a golden opportunity to ride the wave that Banksy had created, and ensure there was something really joyful and concrete here when the Banksy left town.”
They also wanted to shine a light on local artists including Rare, the Thew Collective and Jenks, all of whom were already doing work in Port Talbot before the Banksy arrived. “They make beautiful, high-quality work, and we basically wanted to give all of that art a platform and add to that,” says Paul. “We thought the best way to do that was by creating an outdoor street art trail that anybody can access and anybody could go on. And we wanted to hold it all together with an app that guides you around the art and around the town.”
The ARTWalk has been a runaway success and continues to grow. Besides the new mural outside the train station, the ARTWalk has gained an artist-led free wall painting wall known as the Bridge Street gallery, located under the M4. “It used to be like a horrible grey kind of motorway underpass,” says Paul. “It’s now an incredibly colourful, incredibly beautiful, incredibly skilled series of street art murals, which is constantly changing – so you can go one week and there’ll be completely new art from what you saw a week ago.”