Site Report: Sauchiehall Lane

Glasgow graffiti heritage isn’t normally thought of but, like any collection (whether of objects or something more intangible), this highlights the potential of heritage for a city, which only really equates its heritage to shipbuilding, the tobacco lords and CRM [Charles Rennie Mackintosh]. (email response to site report from City Council employee).

In March 2018, Glasgow City Council approved a strategy for redevelopment of the City Lanes. These are privately-owned, publicly-accessible access and service routes that run parallel to many of the City’s major thoroughfares. The Strategy includes an emphasis on retention of the area’s historic features, as well as the provision of new spaces for art installations. The Action Projects proposed for Sauchiehall Lane focus on ‘heritage’, but whose heritage is the Strategy referring to?

The diversity of public heritage is often elided when constructing heritage policies and narratives of place. My research suggests that multiple communities consider the Lane to be significant, including graffiti writers. The graffiti scene emerged in Glasgow in the 1980s and, as a creative practice performed in public spaces, graffiti is highly visible in the inner-city. Sauchiehall Lane contains extensive informal graffiti and two pieces of formally commissioned ‘street art’ that are included in a city-wide Mural Trail. However, the graffiti community, and consideration of graffiti as a cultural practice, has been largely absent from formal public processes and discussions of the city’s heritage.

Left-hand Image: View of the Lane showing ‘The Musician’ mural and arch, which forms part of a listed building. This section of the Lane is cobbled. Right-hand Image: Work by ‘Real EBA’, produced c2001, photo Nov 2018. Instagram post on 21 March 2019 in response to an image of this work: “Glad to see this is still there #glasgowgraffiti”

The social values assessment of Sauchiehall Lane was a relatively rapid investigation. The total amount of time spent on the study was approximately two weeks, spread over three months (November 2018 to January 2019). The methods used were a mixture of online and in-person interviews and observation. The aim was to identify the variety of communities and range of social values associated with Sauchiehall Lane in Glasgow. Key findings included:

  • The Lane is part of a complex, interconnected, urban location and its significance is inseparable from the wider social and physical context.
  • There is a strong sense of ownership of the Lane as a public space. As noted above, legally the Lanes are mostly privately-owned, but are public rights of way.
  • Various communities use the Lane to assert local knowledge, community identity and belonging.
  • Within the communities there are graduations, of belonging, of permanence, of establishment and of engagement. In the case of the graffiti scene, there are people using similar methods and media who are not considered part of the community (i.e. gangs, ultra-football fans, fine arts artists). Also, although there is a large resident population, several of the groups identified are not defined by living in close proximity to the Lane.
  • Some values are shared across communities (for example, respect for craftsmanship, art and creative expression), but there are also tensions, between and within groups.

Left-hand Image: Doorway with previously featured work by ‘Real-EBA’ removed, photo May 2019. Right-hand Image: Glasgow crews creating works at a legal wall in Edinburgh.

There was a particular focus in this study on identifying the value of Sauchiehall Lane to the graffiti community and its importance to Glasgow’s graffiti heritage. Key findings included:

  • There are complex interactions between graffiti practice and place.
  • City-centre locations like the Lane are important in the formation of identity and negotiation of community relationships.
  • Aspects of graffiti heritage follow an oral tradition, which makes them difficult to evidence or record using a place-based lens and mapping approaches. 

Through an examination of the social values associated with Sauchiehall Lane and its importance to Glasgow’s graffiti community, the study highlights some of the barriers to the inclusion of this otherwise hidden heritage within existing frameworks. The case of graffiti heritage (an often criminalised counter-culture) serves to illustrate issues of wider significance and relevance for future heritage policies.

My sincere thanks go to everyone who participated in the research.

The full site report is available here: Site Report: Sauchiehall Lane (Author retains copyright. Proper attribution of authorship and correct citation details should be given).

Cover image: Corner of Sauchiehall Lane and Elmbank Street, location of ‘The Lost Giant’ mural (legs visible above black over-paint and a throw up by ‘Akme’)