A Hollywood actor has taken out a full-page advert in a regional daily to tell readers about his opposition to the destruction of a city’s mural.
Newport-born Michael Sheen paid for an open letter in the South Wales Argus after the city council demolished a mural commemorating the Chartists in a move which has triggered protests.
He penned the letter to raise his concerns about the destruction of the mural in John Frost Square to make way for a £100m shopping centre, saying it had brought “shame to us all”.
Argus deputy editor Nicole Garnon said: “The demolition of the mural two weeks ago has dominated the headlines and ignited public opinion across Newport.
“We knew Michael Sheen was angry about how the demolition had occurred but we did not expect anything like this. Newport City Council is to write an open letter in reply to it.”
Sheen became famous for playing Tony Blair on several occasions including in the award-winning movie The Queen and also starred in Frost/Nixon,
In his letter, he called for residents to come together and find common-ground to reaffirm their beliefs in the values of the Chartists.
He wrote: “The vicious irony of something that was created to celebrate those who risked much for the good of all, being wiped out without consulting the people themselves, and under the auspices of a Labour led city council serving the needs of profit above all else, is both absurd as well as tragic.
“That so little was done, or was able to be done, by us, in order to stop this from happening, brings shame to us all.
“The council themselves do not want to let us know who was responsible for allowing this to happen for fear of ‘assassination attempts’, and while it is heartening to know that the council feel they include someone of the ilk of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King or Mahatma Ghandi, the real point is that the responsibility is ours, if we wish to honour the values of the Chartists – fairness, equality and a political system that truly represents the needs of the people.
“Clearly that political system has let us down in this case.”
Sheen, who opened the Chartist exhibition at the Newport Museum and Art Gallery in 2012, suggested that students from art and design schools could contribute to a replacement mural, as they had during a theatre production of the Passion in 2011, where he played Jesus Christ.
His letter was published in full on the Argus’ website on the same day it appeared in the paper and by 3pm, the story had been read by more than 5,231 people.
In defending the decision to demolish the mural, the council said it would cost a minimum of £625,000 to move the mural and it could endanger plans for the new shopping centre and its agreed timetable with flagship store Debenhams.
In an open letter responding to Sheen’s comments, council leader Bob Bright wrote: “Nobody denies the mural will be missed. The residents, the council and Mr Sheen all agree on this. Equally no one can deny the benefits that a new shopping scheme will bring to the city.
“The redevelopment will bring a £15m annual investment and 1,200 jobs to the city – so critical for Newport in terms of income, opportunities and improving people’s lives.
“We should also remember that the mural isn’t the only public celebration of the Chartists with other cultural landmarks still in place such as the statues in Westgate Square and the Feibusch murals on the walls of the Civic Centre.
“We were pleased when Mr Sheen opened the Chartist Exhibition in 2010 at the museum. We would be delighted if he would now consider being the Chair of a commission to assess the findings of the current public consultation, and help us plan the next steps.”