A Brexit-themed Banksy that was mysteriously whitewashed overnight is set to be recreated.
Dover council is planning to demolish the building the art resided on to make way for a new Creative Centre.
Following the announcement that the council planned to demolish three buildings in Bench Street, 11, 14 and 15, in December an art dealer pleaded with the council to restore the mural.
Art dealer John Brandler, who has several Banksy pieces in his own gallery, said the artist’s work was still there behind the whitewash and that it would be “criminal” for the council to demolish it.
Now Dover council has revealed they have employed international art specialists, Factum Arte, to scan and preserve the lost artwork before the building is demolished.
The original work will still be destroyed but the council is hoping that this way the piece can still be recreated elsewhere in the town, either digitally or physically.
In a statement the council said: “Factum Arte, whose work includes the Tomb of Raphael in Rome’s Pantheon, will digitally record the Brexit mural using advanced photometric technology so that an accurate record of the Banksy can be catalogued as part of the town’s history and, potentially, reproduced (subject to artist approval) in a new safe Dover location – potentially the new Creative Centre.
“Factum Arte uses technology to bridge the gap, where the line between the digital and the physical no longer exists.
“The Council is fully committed to growing Dover’s economy through culture, heritage and visitors, as well as to working with stakeholders, businesses and the public to deliver this growth.”
The mural by the mystery street artist appeared overnight in May 2017 – a year after Britain narrowly voted in a referendum to leave the European Union.
The departure is symbolised by the image of a workman on a ladder chipping away one of the stars of the EU flag.
It had been placed on the flank wall of the former Castle Amusements building at 11 Bench Street.
This made it instantly viewable by drivers going along the A20 Townwall Street to catch ferries to the Continent from Dover’s Eastern Docks.
In July 2019 the street art was valued at £1 million but the council now says that it would cost up to £4 million to save the mural.
But the artwork mysteriously disappeared that August and a giant square of white was left in its place.
Banksy himself posted about his confusion at it being covered over on social media, along with a picture of his future vision for the site – which showed the flag having crumpled to the floor.
He said on Instagram: “Oh. I had planned that on the day of Brexit I was going to change the piece in Dover to this. But seems they’ve painted over it. Nevermind. I guess a big white flag says it just as well.”
John Brandler, who runs the Brandler Galleries in Brentwood, Essex, said: “Getting rid of that mural would be like binning the Mona Lisa – it would be morally criminal.
“It reflects an important period in our country’s history whether you agreed with Brexit or not.
“It would be an amazing draw to the town if it was re-displayed.”
While the council’s recreation plans won’t save the original mural the demolitions are to make way for a huge redevelopment of the east side of Bench Street.
This will include the new Creative Centre, an education campus, a business centre and park and the refurbishment of an underpass.
The council has secured £21.3 million in funding from central government for the project which they will top up with a further £4 million for their own regeneration fund.
The scheme is hoped to be completed by spring 2024, and all of the Bench Street car park will have to be closed during construction.
A consultation on the proposals is currently underway and a short survey for residents to share their views can be found online until March 31 at dover.gov.uk.
The council says it is trying to enhance Dover’s cultural and creative offer and better connect the high street and waterfront.
The properties now taken over include 8 Bench Street, a former café, and 10, the site of the former Crypt restaurant, where a fire killed seven people 46 years ago.
The others are 11, where the Banksy was, 14, which had the Funky Monkey nightclub, and 15, which was once a post office.
As well as the Creative Centre, new homes are planned as part of Bench Street’s overhaul.
Cllr Trevor Bartlett, leader of Dover council, said: “Having world-renowned street artist Banksy visit Dover to create such an iconic artwork highlighted the importance of our town as the country’s gateway to Europe.
“And it was a great shame that under the building’s previous ownership it was painted over and destroyed.
“I am delighted that Dover council has appointed international art preservation experts Factum Arte to carry out a high-tech scan of the wall, that will allow us to virtually peel back the layers of paint and recreate a digital version of Banksy’s mural for Dover residents to enjoy into the future.
“Saving the artwork in situ would have cost local taxpayers up to £4 million, and there’s no guarantee that this unsafe building wouldn’t have simply collapsed anyway.
“Our plan will create a permanent digital record of the artwork while delivering on our pledge to regenerate the Bench Street area of Dover using £18.1 million we secured from the government’s Levelling Up Fund.”