Street art is an essential part of the Creative Class narrative. Every city has ‘up-and-coming’ areas clad from shop shutters to back alleys, sides of dilapidated buildings to shifty-looking subways, in what has become known as street art. This article argues that the now almost globally ubiquitous street art ‘movement’ has evolved from its roots in class and race conflict and anti-gentrification activism to become a perfect foil for neoliberal capitalism, forming a ‘gritty’ yet colourful backdrop to the Creative City ‘New Bohemias’ that seem to pop-up in every city, everywhere on the planet: a perfect tool in gentrifiers’ artwashing arsenals. Linking street art to ‘nostalgia narratives’, it looks at how street art was employed in New York's Lower East Side in a doomed attempt to resist gentrification in the late 1970s and early 1980s, only for it to become the neighbourhood's nemesis by creating a ‘ghetto’ aesthetic that helped sell it to cool and trendy incomers and the art world in general. But perhaps recuperation was and always will be inevitable?
I had a conversation with fellow artist Martin Daws back in 2016. He had a great idea. imagine if artists were employed, full-time to work in communities? We worked on it. Martin then wrote a guest blog here in 2017.
This article sets out how we could easily and relatively cheaply employ artists in everyday community and how such a simple, yet radical system would create just the sort of transformative cultural change that is at the heart of Arts Council England’s new 10-year strategy, Let’s Create.