24 hours in Banksy’s Dismaland, Weston-super-Mare

After months of watching people come and go and witnessing peculiar events within the confines of the old Lido walls, the abandoned Tropicana site is finally ready to open its doors to the local residents of Weston-super-Mare. The site is all set to host the much-awaited Banksy show, ‘Dismaland, Bemusement Park.’

The Graffiti Street team arrives early to check the queue and find out exactly what the locals feel about the elusive Banksy paying them a visit.

Banksy has instructed the first public opening of Dismaland (Friday, 21st August 2015) to be ‘all about the local residents’ who live in the North Somerset area. Entrance to Dismaland is strict, passports, utility bills and an invitation from the Weston Mercury Paper are all needed to access the Bemusement Park. If you’re not a local… you’re not coming in!

At the crack of dawn, at 5:30 AM, we head to the Tropicana site to check on Tallulah and Jo, with whom we had the pleasure of meeting last night. These two ladies displayed incredible resilience by camping overnight to secure the top spot in the Dismaland queue. We find them still fast asleep in their cosy tents and decide not to wake them up.

Instead, we join the already growing queue and settle in between the friendly local residents of North Somerset.

It’s not long before the crowd starts queueing, and Banksy fever fills the sea air…

Everyone is excited about Dismaland, and the residents are keen to see Weston-super-Mare prosper from the six-week event. Weston-super-Mare will benefit hugely from Banksy’s show, local hotels are already seeing an increase in bookings and will be fully booked over the next few weeks. The ‘Banksy versus Bristol‘ Museum show in 2009 attracted more than 300,000 visitors over 12 weeks and was estimated to have boosted the local economy by £10m.

“The queue is already building nicely here, we’ve estimated the economic benefit (for Weston) is at least £6m, there’s a real buzz about the town” Mike Jackson, leader of North Somerset Council


Several people in the queue are hopeful to see the re-opening of the Tropicana Lido site and the revival of the massive building abandoned for more than 15 years. On the other hand, some individuals feel nostalgic and enthusiastic about bringing their kids to the Lido Centre, which they once visited and cherished during their childhood.

We sit amongst the friendly locals and wait for the sunrise; the dustmen fill the quiet morning dawn with noise… all of us now gasping for a hot coffee to wake us and warm us from the chilly sea breeze.

We meet local celebrity Terry Hutt, a well-known personality in the locality, looking dapper in his attire. Terry expresses his happiness over Banksy’s contribution to putting Weston-super-Mare on the map and mentions that the pier holds a special place in his heart. In fact, he proposed to his wife on the pier 57 years ago. Terry is an active campaigner for the restoration of Weston’s Birnbeck Pier and takes advantage of the queue of locals by getting them to sign his campaign.

As we were chatting, a local resident named Mike joined us and shared some fascinating photos of the Lido Centre from the 1980s when it used to be a bustling holiday resort. It brought back fond memories for me since I had visited Tropicana as a child. I noticed that Mike was wearing a Disney t-shirt with Mickey Mouse on it, which seemed a bit out of place given the Dismal theme. However, he clarified that he’s pro-Disney but still appreciates Banksy’s message.

The line seems to stretch beyond the horizon, and unfortunately, only a thousand residents can enter today.

The atmosphere is electric as the clock strikes 9am, marking the beginning of the countdown for the much-awaited Dismal theme park. To everyone’s surprise, there are no delays, and the ticket office opens promptly on time, adding to the excitement in the air. The Mercury Paper staff welcomes the locals with wide smiles and a warm greeting, and they tightly fit the silver Mercury wristbands on the visitors’ wrists.

Since the Dismaland Bemusement Park doesn’t open until 11:00 am, a new queue forms outside the Tropicana entrance, however, the long wait doesn’t seem to dampen the spirits of the local residents, and the two-hour queue passes by rather quickly.

At precisely 11 am, we are greeted by smartly dressed security personnel who inspect our bags for any prohibited items such as knives, spray cans, marker pens, or illegal drugs. We are informed that even lawyers from the Walt Disney Corporation are strictly prohibited! 

“This is a different kind of family day out- one that sends a more appropriate message to the next generation sorry kids…”.Banksy

Visitors are guided through the security screening room with fake metal detectors and are met with some abrupt security staff ordering us to move on. There was a distinct lack of warmth or friendliness in their demeanour …

As you make your way through the security entrance, you’ll notice that the staff on duty appears completely disinterested in assisting you. They seem to be wearing bright fluorescent pink hi-vis jackets with the word ‘Dismal’ boldly imprinted on the back, which creates a striking contrast to their overall demeanour. Their mood seems to be quite sombre, and the Mickey Mouse ears they sport appear to be worn and beaten down, adding to the overall dreariness of the scene.

As we venture into the depths of this neglected seaside resort, we are granted a rare glimpse into the hidden wonders that lay within its walls. This is not just any ordinary street art – it’s a stunning representation of Banksy’s imaginative graffiti ideas that have been brought to life. The intricate details of the artwork capture the essence of Banksy’s unique style, allowing us to marvel at the true beauty of his creative genius.

“I didn’t deliberately set out to snub street art. I just found other stuff a lot more interesting” Banksy

As I walk through the exhibition, my eyes dart around the room, trying to take in the eclectic collection of politically-charged artwork created by 58 artists from around the world. The pieces range from bizarre and strange to wonderfully unique, featuring notable names such as Damien Hirst, Jenny Holzer, Jimmy Cauty, Bill Barminski, Caitlin Cherry, Polly Morgan, Josh Keyes, Mike Ross, David Shrigley, Bäst, and Espo, to name just a few. I’m particularly excited to see Banksy’s ten artworks on display. It’s like stepping into a surreal, alternative universe.

As you approach the scene, your eyes are immediately drawn to the striking image of Aerial, the beloved character from Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’. However, something seems amiss – her once beautiful image is now distorted as if it’s been affected by television interference. As you move closer, you realise that Aerial is lying in murky water, surrounded by a sea of plastic waste and discarded fast food boxes. This haunting sight serves as a jarring reminder of the devastating effects of careless waste disposal, a message that’s powerfully echoed by Bordalo II‘s work. The backdrop to this eerie scene is a decaying castle, reminiscent of the Lido centre, abandoned for over a decade and a half. The steeples of the castle are adorned with fluttering Tesco bags, which wave in the sea breeze like flags, adding a poignant touch to the overall scene. The presence of these bags is a subtle nod to Banksy’s “Every Little Helps” mural in Shoreditch.

As you walk onto the bridge and through the decaying castle doors, the surroundings turn pitch black—however, the faint sound of cameras snapping guides you through the darkness. Following the sound, you suddenly come across a tragic crash scene. Cinderella’s lifeless body spills through the window of her pumpkin carriage, illuminated by a blizzard of flash photography from the surrounding group of paparazzi photographers.

You soon realise no one is helping her… the paparazzi are more concerned with taking photos and the news story they can sell, chillingly echoing the untimely death of Britain’s much-loved Princess, Diana, who was fatally killed when she was involved in a paparazzi motorbike chase in August 1997. The piece is controversial, shocking, evocative and emotional… Banksy is at his very best.

We made the questionable decision of buying the souvenir photo of the crash, treating it as a mere attraction and capitalising on the theme park’s commercial opportunities. We were all smiles in the photo as we posed behind the paparazzi, contributing to the unhealthy media craze surrounding celebrities, particularly the late Princess Diana.

Banksy’s The Boat Race is another impactful and heart-wrenching piece that sheds light on the refugee crisis in Europe. The installation features remote-controlled motor boats that are overcrowded with refugees. As a participant, you are encouraged to play the game and avoid colliding with the dead bodies in the sea. However, this is not just a game; it represents the reality of thousands of people trying to escape war and oppression.

If you look closer at the wall resembling Lido’s showers, you’ll spot an impressive stencil artwork by Banksy. The artwork is created to depict two young boys sneakily peeking at a lady taking a refreshing shower. What’s more interesting is the clever use of old plastic to create a realistic shower curtain effect.

Brought in from Northern Ireland, a unique sight catches our attention – a riot-control vehicle transformed into a slide for children. Despite its unconventional design, the slide remains untouched and unexplored by the children, perhaps due to the grim and murky lake it is situated in. The vehicle’s imposing presence is juxtaposed with the playful intent behind its transformation.

Julie Burchill, a renowned writer and a victim of domestic violence herself, has penned a modern version of the famous Punch and Judy puppet show. Her adaptation throws light on a disturbing aspect of British culture where children grow up finding amusement in the character of Punch, who gleefully beats up his wife, Judy. This portrayal of domestic violence is alarming and raises concerns about the kind of message we are sending to impressionable young minds. The fact that children applaud and cheer at such scenes makes it all the more worrying.

There is a Fly Tip Theatre, a self-operated puppet revue show resulting from an unexpected partnership between Paul Insect, a graphic artist from East London and Bast, a high fashion vandal. The show is made entirely out of items salvaged from skips in Hackney. By the way, watch for Donald Duck… who is on Quack!

There is a Pocket money loan shop by artist Darren Cullen. This shop offers loans to children at an extremely high interest rate of 5,000 per cent APR, which they claim is 853% cheaper than Wonga. The website, PocketMoneyLoans.com, claims to help kids buy items they can’t afford. They usually loan a little bit more than the child can afford to repay. And if you’re looking for a free toy, all you have to do is run up a late-payment rollover charge of £400 or more, and they’ll send you a ‘Mr. Repayment’ coin toy for free!

The image of Banksy’s artwork depicting an Orca jumping out of a toilet bowl, leaping through a hoop held by a trainer and landing in a children’s pool is a powerful statement against SeaWorld’s inhumane treatment of Orcas. These intelligent and social animals should not be kept in captivity and forced to perform degrading tricks for human entertainment. Instead, they deserve to live in environments with the necessary stimulation, exercise, and fulfilment. The confinement of Orcas in cramped and cruel conditions is a practice that needs to be abandoned immediately.

Banksy’s installation of an old woman surrounded by a flock of pigeons, and they were attacking her relentlessly. It was a common sight in this area, but it made me wonder if this was a nod to the bird woman in Mary Poppins. The one who sells bags of breadcrumbs to passers-by for tuppence a bag so they can feed the many pigeons that surround her? It’s said to have been Walt Disney’s favourite song.

Mike Ross’s Big Rig Jig, whose idea came while thinking about power. is a truly impressive work of art that showcases the sheer power of creativity. The mammoth scale of the piece is a testament to Ross’s vision and ingenuity.

No fairground is complete without a carousel, and this one seems like any other until the ride takes a surprising turn. Suddenly, a butcher is exposed for producing lasagna made from carousel horses, bringing to mind the infamous horsemeat scandal that shook British supermarkets in 2013. It was discovered that many foods advertised as containing beef actually contained undeclared or improperly declared horse meat, sometimes up to 100% of the meat content, all in the name of cheaper supplies.

Leaving the castle behind, my eyes caught sight of an enchanting outdoor cinema, beckoning me to take a seat on the lido steps. The faded pink paint on the steps added to the charm of the place, giving it a rustic and vintage feel that transported me to another era.

The experience we had at the ‘Mini Gulf’ was unforgettable. We were astonished to find out that the crazy golf course was built on the hockey pitch at Cheltenham Ladies College. As we approached the course, we noticed that it had a unique twist – it was designed to represent an oil caliphate. The attention to detail was remarkable, as the course had miniature oil rigs, barrels, and other oil-related props that made the experience more immersive. Despite the challenging obstacles, we had a great time playing the game.

After a series of unfortunate events and an unexpected encounter with a Star Wars stormtrooper and R2D2, we made our way to the Rehab pizza kitchen. The restaurant prides itself on its authentic wood-fired oven that produces mouth-watering thin pizzas with unique toppings. What sets this place apart is its commitment to sourcing all of its rocket salad, herbs, and spices from the Severn Project, a farm that supports recovering addicts. If you’re a pizza enthusiast, we highly recommend their goat cheese and golden beetroot pizza, a perfect blend of savoury and sweet flavours.

Be cautious if you plan on joining the line for the Ferris wheel going backwards. It may cause some discomfort, especially for those who enjoy thrilling experiences. Just a friendly warning!

We leisurely walked through the art exhibition and encountered a large tent that caught our attention. Upon entering, we were greeted by many peculiar and fascinating works of art that left us in awe. Among them was Damien Hirst’s ‘Unicorn’, a stunning sculpture, and artist Scott Hove’s snarling animal mouth, which we were informed was crafted from cake icing. We also encountered Marvin, a creepy yet adorable rabbit donning a top hat and clutching a seemingly shattered magic wand, which was intriguing and unsettling. And let’s not forget the dining table adorned with crockery that resembled a three-dimensional version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, mixed with the chaos of a rather big bull in a china shop.

We visited three galleries on site and were greeted every 15 minutes by Banky’s Grim Reaper. This Banksy classic shows ‘Death’ having fun on the bumper cars at the theme park. We also admired other pieces, such as Dubliner Caroline McCarthy’s work titled ‘Promise’, which features a sea of ready meals with plants growing from them.

As I entered the second gallery, my attention was immediately drawn to a mesmerising artwork by Gloucestershire artist Damien Hirst. The piece, titled ‘The History of Pain’, features a beach ball hovering above a bed of sharp knives.

This gallery also showcases pieces by American contemporary artist Josh Keyes. Keyes’ art is a unique blend of eco-surrealism and dystopian folktales that express a deep concern for our time and the future of our planet.

One piece features a giant atomic mushroom cloud that dominates the gallery, concealing a tree house with only the ladder visible. It’s a thought-provoking work that leaves a lasting impression.

“The ephemeral beauty of a mushroom cloud is frightening, how it floats for a minute, delicate and blooming, yet remains chaotic and utterly destructive. We experience a contradiction between what our eyes enjoy and what our mind know” Dietrich Wegner

The artwork created by Banksy is truly touching and emotional. It portrays a mother taking care of her child on the beach, applying sunscreen, and giving him a hat, a snorkel, and a lifebuoy. The scene is peaceful and serene, but a sense of danger lurks in the background. A massive tidal wave looms behind them, ready to swallow them whole. The contrast between the calmness of the mother and child and the impending danger of the wave is thought-provoking and can be interpreted in many ways.

Grenada-based artist Paco Pomet has a few of his works displayed, showcasing his mastery of craftsmanship and dark humour. One of his pieces features a surprising image of the Cookie Monster riding a jeep alongside the Taliban.

As you wander through the various galleries, you’ll be captivated by the diverse and intriguing art pieces. From the delicate porcelain mice adorned with human ears attached to their backs to the intricately woven tapestries created using car drilling techniques and the exquisitely tattooed Royal Doulton dolls, every piece is a unique and fascinating work of art. One of the exhibit’s highlights is James Cauty’s impressive Riot Village, a thought-provoking and visually stunning installation that will leave a lasting impression.

” This is a fairground that… encourages you to consider, not just to consume, to look, not just to spectate and most important of all – beware of uneven floor surfaces” Banksy

We certainly did that, and now to exit the only way we know how…. through the gift shop.

At the shop, you can find various items such as t-shirts, posters, and limited edition police shields designed by James Cauty, all featuring the iconic smiley face theme. The shop uses recycled plastic bags from supermarkets and big stores to package your purchases to promote sustainability. Please note that you won’t find any branded Dismaland bags here.

After taking a short recharge break, we returned to the venue for the exclusive opening event. Luckily, the line wasn’t as long this time, and we could easily get back into Dismaland. It’s worth noting that female attendees were given pink wristbands, while male attendees were given blue ones.

As the excitement in the air grew, the VIP guests fully embraced the playful spirit of the fun fair. They eagerly attempted the absurdly challenging games, such as the one where you have to knock over an anvil with a ping-pong ball by David Shrigley, and shooting games where the prizes were bling that seemed impossible to win. The guests were even encouraged to take the chains from the stalls as a form of loot.

” Think of this as a fairground that embraces brutality and low level criminality – so a fairground then”. Banksy

I had the chance to play Hook a Duck from the Muck, one of the many games available at the fair. The ducks were swimming in dirty water, and I couldn’t help but notice that Mr. Stork seemed to be covered in tar and holding used beer cans in his mouth. It made me think about the impact of waste on wildlife and the tar spillage in the oceans. But if you win, instead of the usual goldfish crammed into a plastic bag, you can choose a fish finger-friendly alternative as your prize.

The night sky was illuminated by the lights of Dismaland, and the atmosphere was that of a magical fun fair. Guests were having a great time at the party, but upon closer inspection or playing a game, the darker side of the theme park became apparent again.

The evening was made cosy by the bonfire lit by the works of Jeffrey Archer, a disgraced peer and crime novelist.

We are delighted to share that the Bristol Samba Club put on an impressive performance of tribal drum playing, adding to the already amazing experience.

As the amusement park nears its end, a frenzy of shoppers rush to the gift shop to purchase all the merchandise. Meanwhile, unexpected fireworks light up the sky from the dark castle, providing a stunning contrast to the rundown Dismal Park. Those still inside the lacklustre fair get to witness this beautiful spectacle. Watch our video below …

As visitors leave the amusement park, the staff remain in character and bid them farewell with the words “Have a dismal life” as they exit through the gift shop onto the promenade of Weston-super-Mare.

However, we do hope the staff won’t be as dismal when we meet them at the invite-only after-party. With the continued free alcohol flowing, we turn our cameras off and party into the early hours… a 24-hour Banksy roller coaster!… Yeah, it’s been one hell of a ride!

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