- The artwork was spray-painted on the wall of the club last month
- Club leader says being given the Banksy artwork is like winning the lottery
- The club will auction it to raise funds to help young people in the city of Bristol
A struggling English youth club could have its fortunes turned around, thanks to a rather unusual gift.
When an image appeared last month on the website of famous street artist Banksy, the race was on to find the original.
The work, showing a couple embracing while checking their cell phones, was tracked down to a wall of the Broad Plain Boys youth center in the southwestern city of Bristol.
Hours later, the Banksy -- believed to be spray-painted on a black piece of wood screwed onto the wall -- had been removed for safekeeping. It is currently on display in a city art gallery.
Now, the notoriously elusive graffiti artist has written a letter confirming that the artwork is his and given his blessing for the cash-strapped club to make money from it. The painting could fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars, based on sales of past works.
In a letter addressed to Dennis Stinchcombe of the Broad Plain Boys Club, the artist says that he intended the work to be "a small visual gift for the area -- but apparently a financial one would've been more useful."
"I don't normally admit to causing criminal damage but seeing as it looks like charges won't be brought any time soon you have my blessing to do what is right with the piece."
Stinchcombe said it was hard to believe the club's stroke of good fortune.
"It was very surreal," he said. "You dream that it's going to happen. You don't think it will happen, and when it does, it's like 'boom' -- it's like winning (on) a lottery ticket, really. ... I was ecstatic. It was such a buzz to think, 'hang on a minute, all our troubles are over.' "
The club has been serving young people in the city since 1894, he said, but its finances have suffered during the recent economic downturn.
"Money is tight. We were getting to a stage where we could've run out of money if we didn't do something drastic about it," he said. "Lo and behold, a Banksy comes along, which we never planned. It was just one of those things."
The artwork will stay in the museum for the moment, he said, but the club plans to auction it so it can help as many young people in Bristol as possible.
It will probably set up a trust, Stinchcombe said, which will be "a legacy to Banksy, forever and a day" and help keep young people "off the streets and out of trouble."
More than 20,000 people have been to see the piece in the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, he said.
George Ferguson, mayor of Bristol, said in a statement that the letter was confirmed as authentic and that he believed the city had "done the right thing" in looking after the artwork while displaying it in aid of the boys club.
He and Stinchcombe had agreed that if Banksy was to "send a signal" that the artwork was to benefit the club, he would be more than happy to oblige, the mayor said.
"Dennis said he would like it to benefit both the club and other youth projects in Bristol which would be a brilliant resolution," he added. "Thank you Banksy!"
A company that held an auction of "salvaged" Banksy street works (PDF) last month, Sincura Group, estimated their values as ranging from $170,000 to nearly $850,000.
The artist's last high-profile project was a month-long street art "residency" in New York in October.