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Last Updated: Friday, 22 June 2007, 17:26 GMT 18:26 UK
Painting a new image of NI
By Maggie Taggart
BBC Northern Ireland education correspondent

Loyalist and republican murals have become tourist attractions in Northern Ireland and their artists have been invited to decorate a gable wall in Washington for the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival.

Derry mural
This Derry mural is being recreated in Washington

However, they will not be painting hooded gunmen or hunger strikers.

Instead, a more positive view will be held up to the a million visitors expected to wander down the Washingtom Mall over the next two weeks.

For the two weeks of the festival, artists from Belfast and Londonderry will be up ladders in Washington with their brushes and paints.

East Belfast artists will be painting industrial scenes and Tom Kelly of Bogside Murals will be recreating one with coloured squares and a dove of peace already on a gable wall in Londonderry.

"We'll be recreating this large peace mural right in the heart of Washington, in front of the Abraham Lincolm memorial as a sign of what is happening today and what the people are supporting today, which is peace," Mr Kelly said.

This wall painting used to be a Red Hand Commando mural
Murals like this one of CS Lewis are replacing paramilitary ones in east Belfast

One hundred and sixty creative people have been chosen by the Smithsonian Folk life festival to represent Northern Ireland.

This has been an annual event for the last 40 years and each year the museum's group takes over Washington's central Mall for two weeks for a celebration of culture.

The only other region of the UK ever to be invited before was Scotland in 2003.

The idea is to portray a positive image of Northern Ireland, so that's why the old style of paramilitary mural is out of favour.

In east Belfast they are being painted over and replaced with uncontentious pictures.

Community worker Sammy Douglas helps negotiate their removal.

"There's no doubt about it that these murals are very much a part of people's identity," he said.

"But I think there's a recognition that things are moving on - we are now in a whole new era in this country and people want to move on

Footballer George Best features on one of the newer murals
Footballers like George Best are commemorated in murals

Dee Craig is one of the east Belfast artists going out.

"Murals have been done since as far back as 1908, 1910 or thereabouts and over the years they have changed," he said.

"They've veered from the likes of King Billy through to paramilitary murals and now they're ending up as cultural murals."

The high temperatures and humidity expected will mean a very different painting experience.

"Conditions are going to be a wee bit tough heat wise they've told us to expect plus 40 weather so it'll be a lot different from doing murals over here with frosted fingers," Mr Craig said.

Tom Kelly said the invitation gives a new image to mural painting.

"I think the Smithsonian event and the representing of Northern Ireland as a whole is probably trying to show the respectable face of Northern Ireland," he said.

Perhaps symbolically, a house with two gable walls will be built on the Mall, with the east Belfast artists on one side and the Bogside ones on the other.




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