High School Art Teacher Joins Dismaland Project

Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Ma-TESOL; M.S. SpEd

High school art teachers are used to seeing email requests from their fellow teachers asking to help in a variety of school activities. Could you help chaperone? Would you cover detention for me? Would you like to join Banksy’s infamous Dismaland art project?

That last one probably seemed a little out of the ordinary to Jeff Gillette, visual arts teacher at Foothill High School in North Tustin, California. However, it came directly from Holly Cushing, the manager for internationally renowned English street artist Banksy.

Banksy has been active as a street artist for over a decade, while also keeping his identity a complete secret both due to the occasionally illegal nature of his chosen medium and as a means of creating an air of mystery and excitement around his art.

The Dismaland project was a collaboration featuring more than 50 artists spread across 2.5 acres of an English resort town that was meant to, among other things, criticize consumer culture. It used Disneyland as a kind of foil for the joke by turning the resort town into a mockery of the theme park and using some of Disney’s classic characters like Cinderella and Mickey Mouse as subjects.

Gillette had posted some mixed-media online featuring a surreal take on some Disney characters that Banksy happened to see. As a result, Gillette and his wife Laurie Hassold were invited to join Banksy in England. Gillette had been teaching and making art in Orange County for 23 years, and while he enjoyed teaching, had seen only marginal success as an artist.

While Gillette and his wife’s largest contribution was the construction of over 200 Mickey Mouse ears made out of trash cans as a part of the instillation, Gillette also created 6 different paintings that were made a part of the Dismaland gallery that all sold immediately.

Gillette stated that since the gallery’s opening he has been approached by a variety of different galleries and hopes to get some representation in Europe for his work.