Looking into the Politics of Gentrification and How it Impacts My Artistic Practice

I wanted to look into the politics of gentrification and my role as an artist within this process. I also want to determine how this information may impact my practice.

I found an interesting paper in the European Journal of Housing Policy. A link to the paper can be found here:

http://www.scholars-on-bilbao.info/fichas/EJHP_cameronandcoaffee2005.pdf?origin=publication_detail

Art, Gentrification and Regeneration – From Artist as Pioneer to Public Arts. By Stuart Cameron and Jon Coaffee, Global Urban Research Unit, University of Newcastle, UK.

The paper is something I will continue to research, however the quotes below sparked off the line of enquiry I follow below.

 

Initially it outlines 2 possible drivers for gentrification (Culture and Capital), before introducing a third.

The cultural analyses of gentrification identified the individual artist as an important agent in the initiation of the gentrification process in old working class neighbourhoods….Property traced a second stage where capital follows the artist into gentrified localities, commidifying its cultural assets and displacing the original artists/gentrifiers.

 

A third option suggests that the main driver of gentrification is public policy, seeking to use positive gentrification as an engine of urban regeneration. Including public art, cultural facilities…..

As an art student I was informed that we (artists) were responsible for gentrification. At that point I did not question this, nor did I question whether this was “good” or “bad”. I merely took it for granted that we (artists) regenerated areas that were ‘unpleasant’. I didn’t consider the political ramifications of this, nor did I think about their impact on my “artistic integrity”.

I have a self imposed moral code with which I approach my art work. If you have read any of my previous posts you will be able to see that I believe art is well suited and placed to socially equalise those who choose to submit themselves to it.

The idea that my very existence, what I create and where I research and exhibit it, could ultimately be responsible (if only in part) for a social and housing crisis endemic in London’s Brick Lane and Bethnal Green area, is quite frankly unsettling.

Gentrification doesn’t sound bad. You might not immediately associate it with a raise in property prices that effectively socially “cleanse” an area. Coming from a predominantly middle-class suburb that champions local business over mass commercialisation tends to leave an overwhelming sense that anything that promotes independent crafts and businesses is a good thing. But does Brick Lane/Bethnal Green really need a variety of boutique coffee shops, hairdressers and galleries? Would it need them if it weren’t for the artists seeking cheap premises/studio space/gallery space? The artists who, like the pied piper, trail hipsters behind them in their masses.

Ultimately this is an enormously complex, multi-agency argument that I hold no claim over being able to adequately settle for myself, let alone anyone else. The implications for my artistic practice and my approach to my work are now impacted by the issue of gentrification.

 

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