London Mural Festival Responds to Gentrification Accusations

Graffiti & Street Art

August 28, 2020

On August 17, Doug Gillen of Fifth Wall TV posted a video questioning the intentions behind the inaugural London Mural Festival. While here you can watch Doug's video in question, below is the response from Global Street Art, the team behind the event, as we copy it below in its original form.

The following Q&A is in response to Doug Gillen’s ‘Critical Discussion about the impact the London Mural Festival will have on the city.’

How has LMF been funded?

Global Street Art is self-funding the majority of the walls at London Mural Festival (over 30 walls). Some 20 walls have been funded by partners of the festival including developers and cultural institutions, among others who will be announced as the festival continues.

No walls painted during the festival are publicly funded. We are unveiling an amazing Fitzrovia restoration mural project during the festival, which was commissioned by Camden Council and painted earlier this year. This is being unveiled as part of the festival line-up since the original unveiling date was severely delayed due to the pandemic.

What local youth groups, arts groups or community organisations are you working with and to what extent have they been involved in the discussion regarding the artists impacting their community?

LMF has partnered with a number of local resident groups (including on the Essex Road, Webheath, Tybalds and Blashford Housing Estates), landlords, charities (e.g. Rich Mix, Carpenters and Docklands Centre) and other organisations (e.g. the Hungarian Cultural Centre, The Czech Centre, etc) to play a collaborative role in curating the artists and mural visuals where possible.

As alluded above we are are self-funding murals in four different housing estates in the boroughs of Camden and Waltham Forest. Nominated estate residents responded to and refined our artist suggestions (and designs) to ensure that the final murals would be embraced and celebrated by residents into the future.

We believe in self-funding murals in housing estates across London with no costs to councils or residents. We have been doing this for years (watch) to support the wider community day-to-day through art. Given how difficult this year has been for everyone, we especially value these projects now.

During LMF there will be at least one free youth-based mural workshop for young people in London. A second workshop has been slightly postponed until after the festival in a different neighbourhood. We are still exploring ways of adding more workshops to LMF overall.

Diversity and inclusion has been a huge focal point of 2020. To what extent has this been considered in your curation, production and your impact?

Curation

The topic of diversity and inclusion has been embedded in the curation process of the festival since the start. Street art is a worldwide movement so it would be remiss to only work with UK-based artists, even despite the pandemic. Engaging with cultural institutions and embassies to facilitate greater diversity has been key in our planning. All cultural partners will be revealed throughout the festival. That said, we also feel that it has been important to include artists who were both born-and-bred Londoners and those who now call London their home.

Of the festival walls, at least twelve murals will be completed by women. We understand this is a minority percentage however, as you will understand the majority of UK-based muralists are both male and white. There are a handful of artists-of-colour involved in the festival and a smaller number of LGBTQIA artists.

Street art, like graffiti, has tended to be male dominated. We have sought to provide a platform for great artists irrespective of their background however, you are right to point out that this is a challenge. We believe that this is a challenge for many European street art festivals and something that we hope to heavily invest more time and resources into for future editions of the festival.

Countries of origin of artists painting at LMF include: UK, Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, Belgium, Australia, America, Lithuania, Poland, Italy, Ireland, Chile, Australia, Hungary, Japan, New Zealand and Venezuela.

Production

Due to the size and complexity of the festival particularly during a pandemic, we have recruited an experienced and incredible project manager who happens to be a woman. Our logistics manager and our social media and communications manager are also female staff members on our team. Our operational team and LMF project planning team also include other women. You are right to point out that the majority of our staff are male. This has not always been the case – in an earlier stage of the company GSA was one man and three women. The company bias is a male majority now as we have more full-time staff artists; the majority of working muralists and IPAF holders are male.

Impact

Notwithstanding the above, the impact of the murals on surrounding communities and neighbourhoods has been carefully considered. This is why landlords and local residents have been involved to the extent possible in curatorial decisions. Regularly attending town hall meetings, the likes of which we held when we co-founded the Brockley Street Art Festival, have been much harder this year for obvious reasons out of our control.

We believe that it was crucial to have an open dialogue with landlords and residents across all of our walls to ensure that the murals are welcomed and celebrated, reflecting a breadth of artistic styles, approaches and influences.

Through the pandemic, BLM, the refugee crisis, 2020 has been a year in which future generations have screamed for change, how does this festival reflect this discourse?

A selection of artists on the festival line-up have designed works that directly comment on topics such as community and togetherness and other social issues.

However, it would be wrong to demand that every artist taking part in the festival should produce a mural surrounding a social issue. Art is a vehicle for a very wide array of creative expression at the end of the day.

The act of the mural festival itself brings about positive change through the act of painting our city.

If this festival is funded, or even partly funded, via public funds, do you feel there is an ethical dilemma in using the money to invest in art rather than pay the artists outright? Especially considering the number of unpaid volunteers you will be taking on.

As mentioned in your first question, no murals being painted during this festival are funded by public funds. See our note above unveiling the Fitzrovia mural.

At present we are not planning to use volunteers to manage the festival (we are helping people from the events and arts industries who would not otherwise be working right now). We are increasingly reluctant to involve volunteers unless there is a clear motivation for them, rather than our organization. At this point we do not have the capacity to support and train them, therefore looking at employing individuals with relevant experience makes more sense (e.g. with IPAF certification).

Where there is funding artists are paid outright. Otherwise we are self-funding all of the production costs.

How do you respond to the claim that your model aggressively replaces community driven cultural hubs with sanitised advertising space?

This is factually incorrect.

We have opened up a vast number of spaces for pure art and relatively few spaces for advertising. We have organized circa 2600 pure art pieces since we started in 2012. That includes roughly 100 murals in housing estates across the city.

All of the walls that were specifically opened up for LMF will remain as pure art spaces. As you see the festival unfold, many murals will be going up in residential areas (including painting gable-end homes), where advertising would be inappropriate for myriad reasons.

Our mission is and will remain, ‘To Live in Painted Cities,’ and we achieve this year after year. We support artists who travel from around the world and host inclusive arts events and our programme in housing estates. At the same time we are an advertising agency and we need to be sustainable so we can keep providing these other services. The claims you have made through your content have discounted the communities that we work with and many of our other non-festival, non-commercial projects. We provide a free training space for a number of London’s breakdance community and we even host open mic poetry nights (prior to covid).

Do you acknowledge the significant responsibility you take on when you impose your vision upon other communities and the effect this has on them, be it through representation, cultural identity or subsequent gentrification.

As mentioned above, our mission is to live in painted cities. Commercial murals fund our ability to support pure art around London. We believe that there should be more art everywhere, as do many people.

It is an aggressive claim to emphasise that we have ‘imposed’ our vision upon other communities (leading to gentrification), when we have engaged in an open discourse with all landlords and residents; otherwise we would not have permission to paint these walls and the festival would not exist.

We believe that despite your claims and amplified critiques, which have gathered momentum within your audience, you are discrediting the purpose of the festival, to further the mission to live in painted cities. This festival is not about creating new spaces for advertising.

Given the impact of the pandemic, it would have been more financially viable and responsible to dissolve the festival altogether, but we believe in our mission and the positive impact that this festival will bring to London.

As you are aware, it would be naïve to believe that the UK has great public funding for the arts let alone street art. If London is to have an amazing mural festival, which it deserves and which is part of our vision, it needs to be funded somehow.

We believe that there should be more art everywhere.

Did you take issue with any of the aspects raised in the video I put together?

As a company we take issue with the claims presented in your video. Many are just plain wrong.

You have published and shared information about our company and LMF before doing any real research, including reaching out to us. As an established director/vlogger/podcaster, this was surprising.

Your claims and critiques have brought about concern and distress among our residents, landlords and partners involved in the festival. The lack of discourse with Global Street Art prior to your claims have only raised issues among the groups you are claiming to ‘protect and represent.’

The data and information reported across your content have fuelled a one-sided critique of Global Street Art and London Mural Festival.

As mentioned earlier, no new walls sourced for this festival will be used for advertising in the future. Some of the walls within Camille Walala’s giant mural on Rich Mix will revert back to advertising – it is the advertising that is paying for them.

No murals painted during this festival will be branded.

No public funds are being used to pay for any murals that are being painted during LMF.

These are truths that we can standby and hope you can do the same. We trust you will hold us to account.

You are boiling down something as complicated as gentrification into something as simple as painting murals. This is not discourse; it’s reductive and naive.

Our counter to the idea of LMF being a vehicle for gentrification is that we have tried to paint in many different neighbourhoods. In short, we believe there should be more art everywhere.

You reached out to after you posted your content online, which suggests bias. It would have been ethical to email a year ago, or even a week before your first video airing your concerns. Why didn’t you? The frequency of your content and claims have been unprofessional and seemingly personal to our company alone.

Your content was removed because you used copyrighted material. There is no intention to silence your critiques because some of the questions you ask are pertinent and we’re grateful you have raised the issues. However, based on your long-term focus on our company from 2015 onwards, despite their being at least seven other companies in London who wholly or partly produce hand-painted adverts we see this as a singular and personal focus on us and not the advertising mural industry as a whole.

Your aggressive approach to bringing down Global Street Art and thus London Mural Festival takes away from our mission “To Live in Painted Cities”. You open your video claiming that “the views expressed in this video are yours and yours alone”. You cannot then say “this is not a personal attack,” whilst you continue to share aggressive and personal sentiments online about the company and festival by responding to Facebook comments claiming that we are “an unforgiving monolith in the city” and hoping that we “disappear.”

This is especially distasteful because sometimes your comments work. The fact that the founder of a major international street art festival, NuArt, is commenting that he wants the murals in London to be ruined by a fire extinguisher loaded with paint is wildly inappropriate and sullies what NuArt stands for.

London Mural Festival has the potential to bring a lot of joy and public discourse. Thank you for raising some relevant questions. We believe in what we’re doing and we are coming from a good place. We are excited for the coming month and hope whatever imperfections you will invariably publicise can be improved upon in future years.

Kind regards,

The Team at Global Street Art