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 am reposting this article which was originally published by Bella Caledonia here because it formed the basis for my keynote speech at Lancashire Arts Exchange along with the film A Cacophony of Crows which you can see here. It deals with the artwashing of Robin Hood Gardens by state agent, the V&A.
This is a film about V&A’s crass exploitation of council housing following its “acquisition” if some pieces of Robin Hood Gardens in the Labour controlled London borough of Tower Hamlets - a once iconic council housing estate that is being demolished to make way for luxury apartments. It was part of my keynote given as part of Lancashire Arts Exchange on 8th November 2018. I explored how this example of state-led artwashing relates to David Harvey’s arguments around how neoliberalism uses creative destruction and arts/culture/media as a means of re-enforcing class domination.
I began writing a book about artists and hipsters and gentrification. It's a follow on from my article in the Guardian titled Hipsters and artists are the gentrifying foot soldiers of capitalism. The book remains unwritten although this is the introduction to the book proposal.
I will publish the first chapter, "Changing places – from Old Bohemias to New Bohemias", in 6 instalments beginning with the chapter introduction this afternoon then the following subsections one a day from tomorrow onwards: "Old Bohemias"; "Hipsters - Gentrification's Leeches and Parasites"; "New Bohemias"; "Gentrification"; and, finally, "Revenge of the Middle-Classes".
This article was first published in print in Sluice Magazine and then on their website in 2017. I've decided to publish it on my website because I hope its content still resonates in 2018. It addresses issues of instrumentalism in the arts, artwashing, living creatively and cultural democracy. As I wrote in 2017, I believe "it is still possible to conceive of art as part of living creatively, as part of everyday life, as local cultural democracy, as artistic autonomy." It's time to talk about how...
I was kindly asked to talk alongside Labour MP Laura Pidcock, Jessie Jo Jacobs (Policy and Campaigns Officer, Northern TUC) and Ramona McCartney (National Officer for the People's Assembly) at the People's Assembly event, "In Place of Austerity", in Newcastle on 20th January 2018. It was an incredibly inspiring day! This is the transcript for my talk...