In summer 2015 a small seaside town in the south west of England hosted a new art exhibition that attracted international tourists, boosted the local economy and fiercely divided opinions. For five weeks the old Tropicana outdoor pool at Weston-Super-Mare became home Dismaland, billed as an adult theme park with a sinister twist.
World renowned street artist Banksy was the brains behind the project which featured work by 58 artists including Damian Hurst and Jenny Holzer. As a cover for the construction, locals were told that a Hollywood film company was using the disused pool for a location shoot.
We were lucky enough to get tickets to Dismaland and spent a day enjoying the exhibits. Emily used to visit the Tropicana pool as a child so found it quite interesting to observe how the derelict lido had been transformed into Banksy’s theme park of doom.
Everything about Dismaland was purposefully crap. The website crashed when you tried to buy tickets. Visitors were made to queue for hours before being allowed in to the park. Staff were rude, unknowlegable and shuffled around like zombies. The politically charged works of art were, however, the perfect tonic to the deliberate disorganisation. The whole point of the Dismaland experience was to poke fun at the capitalist hierarchy that has become the norm. As consumers we willingly pay large amounts of money for terrible products and services, just to be able to say we own a particular brand or that we visited a certain place. Dismaland cast a questioning inward eye on the UK economy and government. As good art should, Dismaland was brave enough to ask its visitors to question their life choices and do something to make a change. Some visitors may have taken the exhibition at face value and failed to understand its message; those people are sadly the ones who should have been paying the most attention.
Since Dismaland ended its occupation of the Tropicana it has been revealed that the exhibit brought 150,000 visitors to Weston-Super-Mare, boosting the economy by £20 million. The materials used to build the park were transported to Calais and used to provide shelter for refugees fleeing war and destruction. Whatever your views are about Dismaland, if you think it was a waste of time or an amazing piece of modern art, you have to give credit where credit is due. The Dismaland project gave local people jobs, brought in tourists, boosted the economy and helped those in a less fortunate position. You can’t argue with that.