Published: September 27, 2015
Dismaland Closing, It is Friday afternoon in Weston-super-Mare and the place is heaving. Usually, come September, this Somerset seaside town is winding down as the summer revellers depart, the pier empties and the ice-cream sellers shut up shop.
But the town, once the du jour destination for Edwardian holidaymakers and which, like many such resorts, can evoke an air of faded glory, has experienced a renaissance this past month – and it is all thanks to Banksy.
Since the elusive graffiti artist opened Dismaland, his anti-establishment “bemusement” park, in the disused Tropicana lido on the seafront, hundreds of thousands of visitors have flocked to Weston-super-Mare.
The temporary installation, which features artwork by the likes of Damien Hirst, will close its doors on Sunday but figures show it has generated £20m in extra revenue for the people and businesses of the town. Dismaland brought in more than 150,000 visitors from all over the world. Some had managed to get their hands on an online ticket for £3 beforehand but others were willing to queue for hours each day, come rain or shine, for one of the 500 daily walk-in tickets.
Many residents said they would be sad to see the installation go. Wayne Entwhistle, the manager of the Grand Atlantic hotel, which overlooks Dismaland, said there had been a “really noticeable influx of people coming into the hotel for one-night stays, far more then we’ve ever had in September”. Indeed, the town’s hoteliers’ association estimates an additional 50,000 nights have been sold in Weston-super-Mare since Dismaland opened, compared with this time last year.
“People have called us up for bookings from Hong Kong, America, Austria, Canada, and that’s never happened before,” Entwhistle said. “We had some guests last week who went three times. And then the town itself has been really busy, so it’s been really good for everyone. Weston-super-Mare has attracted some negative coverage in the past so it’s nice to get some positive stuff for a change. It will be a shame to see it go.”
On Friday morning, hundreds patiently queued along the seafront promenade in a desperate attempt to see the park before it closed, the taunting music drifting over the top of the ominous grey walls.
Resident Hollie Bissex, 18, said her college had given them all permission to take the day off to visit the theme park, while Alyson Lyons, 54, and Dave Roland, 51, said they had driven from Southampton early in the morning to try to get one of the walk-in tickets.
“We’ve planned our summer holiday around being here today,” said Lyons, sitting in a camping chair in the September sunshine as she patiently queued behind hundreds of others. “We love Banksy. He’s interesting and politically astute and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Dismaland may only be temporary but, as is Banksy’s style, it will not disappear quietly. On Friday evening, the theme park was hosting a finale ceremony, due to feature performances from De La Soul, Kate Tempest and there were even rumours of an appearance by Jay Z. In order to ensure Banksy could attend the celebration without giving away his identity, all ticket holders and guests were told they would not be given entry unless they wore a mask.
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