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Press & Journal, 07 November 2007


A woman responsible for "trashing" a project aimed at helping homeless people in Aberdeen received £5,000 in public money to highlight their plight, it emerged last night.

Eva Merz 41, attached stickers to begging boxes in the city centre earlier this year in protest because she believes they are ineffective and insulting.

The stickers featured the slogan: "Do you think a blanket and a meal is all it takes to help the people who need to street beg in Aberdeen - the city council does."

Writing on a website, she described the boxes, funded by taxpayers' money, as a "joke" and claimed they will not make any difference to people who beg.

It emerged last night that Ms Merz, who was until recently Tillydrone's artist in residence, was awarded £5,000 in 2005 for an art project investigating begging and attitudes towards it.

However, she insisted that the cash was used to bankroll a book which laid bare the plight of beggars and was not used to pay for the stickers.

Ms Merz, who is originally from Denmark and is now based in Glasgow, said: "I got a grant of £5,000 from the Scottish Arts Council to make a book but I did not have any funds to make the stickers.

"They were paid for out of my own pocket, not public money."

However, Martin Greig, chairman of Aberdeen Community Partnership which spearheaded the scheme, the first of its kind in Scotland aimed at discouraging aggressive begging, was not amused.

He said he found it "offensive and patronising" to have efforts to help beggars and homeless people criticised and "trashed" in such a manner.

A spokesman for Aberdeen City Council condemned Ms Merz for her actions because valuable resources and time was wasted removing the stickers.

The spokesman said: "Aside from anything else, the statement on the stickers was completely wrong.

"The boxes are part of a much wider strategy that has seen an increased focus on homelessness and rough sleeping.

"In fact, given that the stickers were arguably designed to deter people from using the boxes, it's difficult to see exactly how they contributed to supporting the homeless, as opposed to the artist's ego."

Homeless charity Aberdeen Cyrenians has branded the boxes a gimmick.

Sue Irving, director of business development, said: "Anybody who wants to help homeless people should be welcomed but the sums of money we're talking about are never going to make a real difference. These are not going to change people's lives."

Justifying why Ms Merz had received a £5,000 grant, a spokeswoman for the Scottish Arts Council said: "Freedom of expression is a widely accepted right in terms of arts commentary and therefore within that context, we welcome the work of the project which stimulates such debate."