Back in September, Brockley was voted as the community that would be lucky enough to stage the first ever Colour in the City street art festival, as part of a collaboration between Londonist, a website dedicated to all things London, and Global Street Art, an organisation responsible for over 500 independent artist murals in London. The intention is to produce a high quality festival with a balance of local, national and international artists, coming together to create a continuum of stunning murals along the Brockley Corridor and throughout the neighbourhood.
It was no surprise to locals that Brockley was nominated, and by an individual resident, as opposed to a community group. Brockley has a rich heritage in the arts, with ‘bohemians’ moving in as early as the 1960’s, driven by the tree lined streets, Victorian housing and proximity to Goldsmiths College, renowned for its contribution to the arts. Today, Brockley is alive with an acclaimed farmers market, numerous art houses, a fantastic fringe theatre and two well-respected and well attended annual arts festivals; Brockley Max and Brockley Open Studios. The subject of street art, however, is sure to raise a few eyebrows in the conservation area, so it’s important to consider what this festival can bring to Brockley, and what other neighbourhoods in London might learn:
Galvanise the community
Brockley already has a very strong sense of community, with an established local forum, which rallied the call for votes to make the street art festival a reality, but geographically the community has always been 3 very separate enclaves spread along Brockley Road; Brockley Cross and the conservation area, Crofton Park and Honor Oak Park. With the area’s new-found popularity as a result of the opening of London Overground in 2010, there has been much debate about where the real Brockley lies, providing a chance for the community to demonstrate its solidarity. Aiming to compliment an already successful annual Brockley Max festival, Brockley Street Art Festival stands to capitalise on the recent demolition of its most famous piece of street art close to Brockley station. Originally murals on the history of Brockley (commissioned by The Brockley Society and painted by Colin Humphries), the works were later superseded by two different incarnations of Bob Marley spanning 30 years. The more recent additions of Maya Angelou and Jimi Hendrix were as a result of a local Black Icons vote, with Jimi Hendrix at one stage being painted over completely in black, prompting an invite for various artists to submit replacement works. With the sentimental and visual void left in the wake of the demolition, the festival poses an opportunity to revive these iconic murals for future generations to enjoy and continue the strong sense of local pride by surfacing shared stories and experiences through art.
Improve the urban fabric
Tagging, graffiti, guerrilla art, urban art or just plain vandalism, how far street art can improve the urban fabric will always be highly subjective. But with regeneration the name of the game in the borough-at-large, this is an opportunity for Brockley to contribute to this process whilst challenging perceptions of what street art means, beyond Banksy, and beyond its criminal past. Lewisham Council recently began a £multi- million investment into its town centre, to but in an age where high streets lack identity, street art can really contribute to these more generic improvements and empower the community to play an active role in how their area looks. Like many major connecting routes in London, the Brockley Corridor, could really benefit from more aesthetic unity, with murals providing an interesting means to ‘traffic calm’ even the busiest of roads. Although it’s a step too far to draw on the impact of street art on the appearance of São Paulo and Rio favelas, nearby Shoreditch has a catalogue of examples of how street art has breathed new life into rundown streets and derelict sites. The challenge for Brockley will be accessing such sites from public and private ownership.
Provide a platform for creative talent
With nearby Goldsmiths College and Camberwell College, Brockley is a hot-bed of emerging creative talent and by freeing up unused local space on walls and shutters, the festival will offer a rare opportunity for work to gain exposure beyond college exhibitions and the annual open studios. Alongside individual talent, there is the potential to also engage local organisations as well as international artists known for championing the role of art in public space. Responsible for the ‘wind up’ key next door to what is now The Gantry, Artmongers have been responsible for turning New Cross bins into cows, and adorning chimney stacks with a tie and a string of pearls as part of Deptford X in July 2012. This year’s Deptford X headline, internationally renowned artist Bob and Roberta Smith took a street art approach to his 2006 commission by PEER. In a bid to revive local Shoreditch businesses, Shop Local created modern day replicas of the painted advertisements once celebrated by residents and shop owners as the ‘ghosts of businesses past’. So beyond the murals themselves, this kind of creative talent will be invaluable for hosting any complimentary workshops, talks or walks that we hope to create around the festival.
Boost the local economy
Even before the grand unveiling of the London Overground network, in 2007 nearby Crystal Palace had already cottoned on to the value of reaching out to its neighbours along the tracks, by creating its very own art and music event. Still going strong, as a non for profit event, everything earned is ploughed back into the festival, but with over 6000 visitors reported to last years event, it’s sure to have had a positive effect on local trade. Brockley has seen a significant number of residents move into the area over the last few years, particularly from North and East London as individuals became wise to the attractively priced and attractively appointed property stock. More recently, Brockley’s thriving Saturday market has demonstrated its pulling power, having received significant accolades among London’s foodie community and a celebrity resident. The first of its kind, Brockley Street Art Festival provides the perfect excuse for fellow Londoners along the Overground network to dip their toe in the local area, and see if it’s for them. And anyone in doubt that street art will be a big enough crowd-puller, this years City of Colours street art festival in Birmingham delivered over 80% more visitors than the city was expecting, with local businesses enjoying bumper sales on the day (Source: Birmingham Post, September 2014).
Art that is truly accessible
I could hardly believe it when a Brockley teacher friend of mine said that the annual school trip to the seaside was pretty much the only time a number of children in her primary class ever saw the sea. If this is true for the seaside, you can bet your bottom dollar it is even more the case for gallery visits. Whether you sit in the Jake Chapman school of thought, that there is little point taking children to galleries when they are too young to appreciate it, there is no denying that art in whatever form will always be an important source of inspiration for children, an opinion divider, a thought-provoker, a means of expression and a talking point. The beautiful thing about street art is that it lives on the street. And with the streets of our area and our beautiful city being free for our enjoyment, the work produced as part of a street art festival will not only provide a reason for children to take a closer look at the world around them, but will provide continuous access to art for everyone, even in the most deprived of London boroughs.
Brockley Street Art Festival is a week long community event planned for May. If successful, the festival will roll out to all Londonist nominated neighbourhoods.
With support from local landlords and property owners, we hope to turn the blank walls and shutters of Brockley, Crofton Park and Honor Oak Park into great art for everyone.
If you know anyone who could benefit from improvements to their property please email your interest to: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
(Bob Marley images and anecdotes kindly supplied by Moira Tait)