The proposed question whether artists and curators are to blame for gentrification will be discussed throughout this essay. Many resources will be utilised elucidating further the impact urban art has on working-class societies. A solidified argument shall be realised upon examining the varying ways that gentrification exists and therefore determining its impact to be that as either positive or a negative. Ruth Glass, a British sociologist, coined the term gentrification in 1964 writing in her book entitled Centre for Urban Studies: London: Aspects of Change (1964):
One by one, many of the working-class quarters of London have been invaded by the middle classes – upper and lower… Once this process of ‘gentrification’ starts in a district it goes rapidly until all or most of the original working-class occupiers are displaced and the whole social character of the district is changed.[1]
As Glass stated, gentrification affects the district or community in which the process is undergone. Gentrification is a global phenomenon that can be witnessed from a personal perspective, furthermore, solidifying the premise for utilising my hometown, Ipswich, England, as the main case study. To comprehend gentrification and its impact it has had on the town of Ipswich, this essay will research the art scene situated there and how artists and organisations are potentially living and adapting to the perpetual transformative environment within the town.
Gentrification is a heavily debated term inspiring many sociological discussions regarding the catalytic cause, true definition of the term and above all the consequences gentrification has on communities.[2]  Gentrification is a gradual process within communities, and more so within those suffering economic downturn. As the area progresses with this process and in the eyes of the local councils ‘excel’ due to modish integrations of cosmetic landscaping, existing residents are suffering monetarily. This process happens when a clash of class occurs, wealthier newcomers move into working-class neighbourhoods.[3] The influx of newcomers attracted to cities or towns is often owing to the rate of tourist attraction available. Cause and consequence, higher tourism improves business opportunities and therefore a migration of workforce. The community may witness new amenities and businesses becoming integrated within the landscape catering the needs of fresh newcomers, utilising the law of attraction as an example, by placing the one-hundredth indie coffee shop in proximity with the typical Costa or wine bar. This coffee shop infiltration contributes to the larger problem of gentrification. This is just one instance that neighbouring towns and cities alike, are classified as recently undergoing a gentrification programme. In layman terms, clarified as investor’s attempts at improving a community. The gentrification process results in both negative and positive outcomes. Some examples of this are replenishment and fixing of the roads, integration of socially inclusive spaces such as parks and nature reserves and contributing to the cultural uplift by hosting art festivals and events. These all have beneficial perks at creating a society of thriving culture and creativity whilst simultaneously, residents who have lived within this community, pre-changes, are undergoing what is known as ‘economic displacement’.  One example of the displacement of residents is resultant of rent prices soaring due to landlords’ competitive market with prices being reflective of the modernised environment, causing residents to become homeless as living conditions are now financially unfathomable.
Art is often heavily blamed when conversing about the topic of gentrification as some see the arts as a luxury of wealth and catering for grandiloquent audiences. Some feel the arts and artist are key forces of gentrification, instigating successive waves of displacement from central city neighbourhoods.[4] Whereas some feel that artists are the first victims of embourgeoisement.[5] Two incredibly important ideologies of consideration when discussing the impact of art and landscape. Not one is lesser than the other but omits the consideration of the livelihood of artists themselves. From the perspective of spectator, Public Art acts to essentially aestheticize space and assuage restore populations but without addressing class structures, production processes, or political practices that generate inequalities within the first place.[6] The term artwashing is utilised describing the process of employing art to smooth and gloss over social cleansing and gentrification, functioning as ‘social licence’, a public relations tool, and a means of pacifying local communities. [7] Stephen Pritchard discussed in a presentation he gave at Kings College, London (2017) a type of artwashing utilised by corporate organisations. He states that companies exploit the arts as a form of PR by persuading the public to trust them.[8] Pritchard’s text defines a variety of categories the term, artwashing encompasses. One of his categorisations of this term, is a predominantly recognisable integration of art in local town centres. Local authority-led artwashing refers to local councils commissioning art murals or other forms of art as being representative of the community and displayed for the public. This is when art becomes a form of advertisement, and not necessarily representative of the initial intent of the creation. Pritchard’s description of localised authoritarian artwashing is an increasing phenomenon evidenced by walking around your community.  A type of art often witnessed within communities on a public perspective is termed street art. This style of art is often referred to when categorising graffiti and urban murals. Many of the murals evidenced within such areas are commissioned by local councils or art festivals and charity led organisations. Nicolas Riggle, a philosopher, stated that street art, akin to pop art, is a critical response to the modern separation of art and life.[9] Within his text, Street Art: The Transfiguration of the Commonplaces. (2010), he converses about street arts and their placement and belonging within society. Riggle suggests that street art has in essence, been extracted from a museum, and transcribed to exist within the fractured stream of everyday life.[10] Street art is often associated with the taboo of vandalism and deemed as a creative representation of lower-class society but when commissioned by local councils, the murals are deemed as something of a beneficial contributor to that of the urban landscape. To understand how artwashing and the working lower-class community integrate this is best witnessed by observing local counties or towns.
Ipswich, a town in Suffolk, England, highlights an impeccably devastatingly and eerily accurate depiction of gentrification. It is known for its historical references regarding the Tudor ages and the progressive expansion of the pedestalised waterfront situated within the town centre. A graphic design tutor, Nigel Ball, at the, University of Suffolk, based on Ipswich’s waterfront, described Ipswich as being:
…ripe for gentrification and the only thing holding this ever-present threat at bay is the dire train service to and from London …The town has always been a poor cousin to other towns within the wider Eastern region, and I think that’s how many of its inhabitants feel: neglected in favour of the money that surrounds it. [11]
Many would state that this town exuberates underfunding in all the wrong places. Ipswich homes what is known as the waterfront, historically known as a working dock in operation since the Saxon times[12] and is now known or portrayed to be the main tourist attraction. The commerce is now gained from the leisure industry as opposed to the hub of manufacturing and convoy it once was (figure one). This strip of brick and docked boats, is landlord to a variety of coffee shops, bars, and the University of Suffolk. The skyline is littered with a dull coloured array of disproportioned towering flats that reek industrialisation and overcharged rent (figure two). The remains of the workers docks are littered amongst the modern architecture; the skeletal remains of which are evidenced by demolition, arson, and vandalism, abandoned redundant of purpose. A short walk away from this strip of gentrification situates the town centre. This is drowned out by empty storefronts as seen in figure three, boarded up windows, homeless individuals, budding tourists, and the aroma of urine. A total clash of wealth and tunnel visioned gentrification.

Figure One, Russell Whipps Collection HMS Opossum 1982, Photograph courtesy of Ipswich Maritime Trust

Figure Two, The Mill, Photograph taken by Dave, 2014

Figure Three, Town Centre, Photograph taken by Bobby Forsythe, 2021

The town centre in recent history has hosted multiple art events, one being the Ed Sheeran show exhibited at Christchurch Mansion. (August 2019-November 2020) This show was organised by Sheeran’s father and Ipswich Borough council, whilst also being sponsored by Aspall, showcasing an array of artworks and childhood memorabilia relative to the musician. According to statistics featured within a BBC article, the exhibition attracted an influx of 80,813 visitors in 2019-20, compared to 61,282 visitors in 2018-19. [1] His face alone was utilised for commercialisation and tourism.
The waterfront also houses an annual art event known as the Spill Festival which hosts an array of events and exhibitions over the course of eleven days.
An international festival of contemporary arts and activism presenting the work of exceptional artists from around the globe. [2]
The Spill Festival was produced as an initiative in the year 2007 curated by the Pacitti Company, an art charity led based organisation. [3] Throughout the duration of this festival, tourists and locals can view up to twenty artworks created by a variety of both local and international artists and can also take part in seminars and workshops. In 2018, the festival hosted its opening events on the Ipswich Waterfront showcasing, The Clarion Call (2018) potentially the boldest artwork they have exhibited since the established date of 2007. This artwork was co-funded by the Pacitti Company and 14-18 NOW, the United Kingdom’s WWI, centenary fund.[4] This piece was exhibited throughout the duration of the festival and could be heard from some distance away. The voices of women both young and old, singing an English folk song, Our Captain Cried (All Hands) rang out in daily incantations whilst the sun was setting.[5]  The piece was executed using a helicopter and a speaker system and has been described as an ephemeral monument to the aftermath of wars past, present and future. Although an impactful and well thought out piece, it became much of a literal earache for those in surrounding communities. One man protested the performance, using a megaphone and a siren. Labelling the Clarion Call as an evil sounding cacophony. The protestor, Paul Dawson expressed his frustration and said within an interview with the BBC:
Your noise is not welcome in my home.[6]
The performance was projected out of four hundred and eighty-eight speakers positioned on top of the residential flats on Stoke Quay (waterfront). Inevitably an interaction that could cause great discomfort for the residents situated along the waterfront. This incorporation of public space consequently welcomes increased scope for criticism, especially when on a scale quite as large as the Clarion Call.
Art Eat is another local arts organisation that also hosts an annual show in Ipswich. This organisation develops and delivers creative art events along the waterfront in support of both emerging and established artists over the course of two days, exhibiting an array of community participation, inclusion, art markets and art murals to name but a few.[7] Mention of this organisation reaffirms the impacted utilisation of the waterfront with the incorporation of the arts. Littered along the waterfront are seen various commissioned murals, collaborated creations with local artists; many encompassing political messages such as Black Lives Matter and Feminism. Situated at one of the main entrances to the waterfront is the Youth Mural, this acts as a foreground to the Mill Tower formerly known as the Pauls Silo building as seen in figure four, derelict for twenty-three years now covered in local street art and soon to be reformed into a local arts hub.[8] This mural was inspired by the Marvel film, Black Panther (2018). Black British artist, Evewright led online workshops for sixteen young individuals, utilising support from local authorities, Suffolk Libraries, and young children organisations. Another political mural entitled; Sofia Mural (figure five) is located nearby the Youth Mural.  This piece was awarded a grant from the Women’s Centenary Fund and is a representation of the Sikh Princess, Sofia Duleep Singh, an infamous Suffragette.[9]  Both murals curated and organised by Art Eat. Typically, street art is deemed as only encompassing politics as an expression of creativity and not necessarily relative to the context of the artwork. However, when commissioned by an organisation, politics is at the forefront of necessities. Each exampled mural is painted with vibrant colour palettes, more so that of the Youth Mural. A technique which appears more appealing to that of the beholder. The more aesthetically pleasing a mural is, the more tourists will interact and revisit the landscape as it is now seen as a commercialised artwork for the benefit of attraction.

Figure Four, Photograph taken of the Youth Mural, Photograph taken by, Bobby Forsythe, 2021

Figure Five, Photograph taken of the Sophia Duleep Singh Mural, Photograph taken by Bobby Forsythe, 2021

Along the stretch of the River Orwell within Ipswich Town centre, a curvature of vibrancy and urban art at its finest is situated. A concoction of marvel characters and individual staple graffiti tags, accentuating creativity within the localised art scene. Graffiti tagging is a simplistic technique of signing the artists identity within the mural piece.[1] The surrounding environment of this idealised strip of art consists of empty land and towering residential flats. Prior to the display of the marvel mural – partly seen in figure six – was another mural commissioned by Ipswich Borough Council (figure seven) comparatively much duller in visualised context. Within an article by Wendy Rose (2008) for BBC Suffolk, the older commissioned mural is featured with the inclusion of residential feedback. Rose welcomed comments from locals after posing the question whether graffiti is deemed as art or vandalism. Although most of the feedback regarded the mural in question, one paragraph written by an eager resident in retaliation to another resident living in a neighbouring flat to the artwork stated:
Yuppie flat viewer, if you want to moan about the scenery, try the (also overlooked) disused freight tracks, homeless tents, red light district, nightclub closed after gun and knife incidents, boy racers and derelict B&Q next to an obscene McDonalds style theme park (Cardinal) tell me, is a MURAL all you really have to complain about? [2]
Although angrily written and not in comparison to that of a theorist, an important point to consider. It is just as valuable as a theorem that has been realised after years of research. Dated back in 2008, this perspective regarding living situation still exists within the present. It is a detriment to that of the residents who are not receiving funding or feeling that funding is not being applied to areas of need within the town. ​​​​​​​

Figure Six, Photograph taken of the Marvel Mural situated along the River Orwell, Photograph taken by Bobby Forsythe, 2021

Figure Seven, Photograph taken of the Ipswich Borough Council Mural, Photograph taken by Wendy Rose, 2008

The demand from localised councils around the globe and organisations hosting the realisations of murals has soared within neighbourhoods. The typical proposal is usually involving of political messaging to represent the place in which this piece is exhibited and used. These murals are often referenced within local newspapers and used within promotional material for areas. Many artists have acted in rebellion and removed their works from not wanting to be labelled a ‘gentrification contributor’. Artist’s rebellion and response to gentrification is not unheard off. Italian street artist, Blu, destroyed artworks created over twenty years and free to view on the streets of Bologna. The artist painted over each piece with grey paint symbolising a political message to those who were willing to demolish property to build housing. Blu stated:
After having denounced and criminalized graffiti as vandalism, after having oppressed the youth culture that created them, after having evacuated the places which functioned as laboratories for those artists, now Bologna’s powers-that-be pose as the saviors of street art.[1]
He simply did not want to be a part of a marketing campaign of gentrification.[2] This returns the consideration of the profiteers of street art, especially when instigated and led by local authorities and organisations. Andrea Baldin, an associate Professor of Aesthetics and Art Theory at the School of Arts of Nanjing University wrote, Street Art: A Reply to Riggle (2016), this text analyses how street art is reciprocated and utilised as a platform of political rebellion. A section of the paper discusses commercialisation and the integration of corporal industrialisation into modern day societies reflecting upon how artists exist within this climate, more so, street artists. Since the 1980s, commercialism has been occupying the cityscapes, displaying an array of media fuelled propaganda. Commercial billboards, posters, and neon signs are some of the few representations of gentrification that have become phenomena and a contributor to the transformative process of altering the urban space into branded hubs.[3] Baldin expressed street art as being subversive and anarchistic to the surrounding environment of communism and an increase of sought-after wealth. Unfortunately, the artworks become part of the urban texture[4] and inhabit the landscape accompanying the modern architecture and thriving societies.
An example of the clash of commercialism and street art is evidenced within this next case study in New York, United States. The Bushwick Collective was founded by Joseph Ficalora, a local artist in 2013, he started this collective with aims of creating a transformative Graffiti and Street Art project. Ficalora contacted artists from many countries and asked them to contribute their talents to the canvases, those being the industrial and residential buildings of Bushwick[5] and one of the artworks created by an artist is seen evidenced within figure eight. The streets of Bushwick see a multitude of tourists per annual year, many that have paid for ‘art tours’ to observe the artworks littered around the urban texture. Within a documentary with Complex entitled, No Free Walls | Street Art and Gentrification Collide in Bushwick (2016), Ficalora conversed about the increased footfall regarding tourism but mainly leaving fault of cooperative advertisement. A segment of the documentary dedicated time to including conversation around capitalism and this ideology of creation for attraction of tourism. The point was suggested that advertisement corporations acknowledged an increase in footfall within the community and decided to utilise this opportunity to litter the streets with billboards, taking up the spaces that street artists wanted for canvases.[6] Many of the murals are created for little to no expense. The billboard that is layered over the art is created with money to capitalise as being the main end goal. This type of artwork coexists with capitalist advertisement. Evidently, graffiti is one of the best forms of allurement within any neighbourhood.[7] Unfortunately some people do not agree with the developments of Bushwick and suggested that this artistic progression and commercialism dismissed their culture, creating an alienating society diminishing any authenticity of the community antecedent of change. [8]​​​​​​​

Figure Eight, Unknown, Photograph taken by Anita Sáne

Another example of a retaliating street artist steers conversation back to focusing on Ipswich. Street artist, Scott King, formally known as being the founder of Aroma Designs, a graffiti company, was commissioned by Ipswich Borough Council the creation of a mural to be displayed along the road of Upper Brook St, residing within the town centre. Unknown as to why King was commissioned to create a piece of artwork for Ipswich seen in figure nine, assumptions can be made that it was part of the local councils attempts at refreshing the urban landscape. David Cameron, a former Prime Minister of England, had visited the town and made comments regarding the working-class Ipswich Town as being rundown.[1]  This resulted in an immense amount of criticism for street artist, King with some classing his mural as vandalism. Although King discussed and argued the case regarding the art form as being the typical taboo, he did state that:
It’s bringing people into this part of town and four years later, it’s not bad. [2]
This artist is acknowledging the footfall that is being welcomed to the town centre and exclaims this to be that of a positive. When discussing the topic of this essay and questioning if curators and artists are to be of blame for gentrification, this is not the case within this circumstance. The commission was realised by King within the year of 2009. Fast forward to the current year, 2021 where businesses are out of use due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the very stretch of road this commission that was exhibited, that is no longer located or exists, is suffering. Recent property developments have demolished old housing structures and businesses, leaving skeletal remains of rubble and brick (figure ten). Littered along this stretch are seen empty storefronts, a common phenomenon throughout the town centre. It is evidenced here that artists and curators are far from the source of gentrification. The stench of underfunding and economic struggle seethes from what used to be a ‘thriving town centre’, which for years, has been described as continuously undergoing an extensive rebuilding and gentrification programme, mainly around the waterfront, but also the two main shopping centres in Ipswich.

Figure Nine, Scott King in front of his commissioned mural, Photograph courtesy of Ipswich Star, 2013

Figure Ten, Photograph taken of the street Scott King’s mural once existed, Photograph taken by Bobby Forsythe, 2021

When conversing about a hometown in relation to such essay topic, it is important to consider the experience and perspective from which it is written. I have utilised primary research throughout this text conversing about Ipswich as the main case study. The decision to use Ipswich is owing to the strength of personal experienced argument that can be made in relation to the question of whether artists and curators are to be blamed for gentrification. As a resident born and raised in Ipswich, extreme changes to the town have been witnessed first-hand. From the demolishment of factories to the integration of yet another erected tower of flats, the Ipswich landscape has succumbed the pitfall of gentrification. Unfortunately, once a thriving commercially industrious town, it is suffering concerningly in very similar ways to that of other urban areas on a globalised scale.
This essay evaluated and evidenced the impact the arts and those that curate them have on urban-scapes in attempt to determine and clarify whether they are the root cause for the artwashing of neighbourhoods as part of widely ongoing gentrification programmes within such areas. Throughout this essay the discussion exampled street art as being the main point of focus. The reasoning being the connection this style has within communities. Street art is not a pedestalised art form that one may witness within a museum, encased in glass. It is a flexible form designed to illuminate and represent artistic expression utilising the street as a canvas. Unfortunately, when conversing about gentrification, this type of art is often described perceptually as one of the main contributors to designate blame for gentrification to one group of individuals that produce such artworks, as the public art form is deemed as commercialisation. Three artists, Blu, Scott King, and Joseph Ficalora have been utilised within this essay presenting examples of retaliation to such claims of gentrification and the defending of street art. It was important to include artists who have directly tackled this criticism within a public sphere – as opposed to critiquing an institute – as it reveals the perspective of artists regarding this topic.
Commercialisation has been discussed utilising Andrea Baldin’s writing relative to a response to philosopher, Nicolas Riggle. Gentrification is much more than just how it impacts a community within a visually aesthetic margin. It also converses a bigger picture referencing the skeletal backbone of corporate origins as to the how’s and who fund these changes and as to why these alterations are coming into effect. As evidenced within the documentary featuring Ficalora, advertisement corporations are displacing not only the residents, but also the artworks created by the community. Displacing communities due to the increase of finance that once was deemed as liveable as it matched the standard of life that the community once represented. Capitalist society has exemplified this transition of working lower class societies to represent what has been described as branded hubs.[1]
The contentious process of gentrification is not just identified as being a representation of unjust economic failure but more so relative to the structure of a society and the investors included. It is noteworthy that when referring to art curation within this context, it refers to a type of inclusive curation, whereby the organising of artworks for display are for the interest of public humanities. Artists are merely contributing factors, victims of commercial intent commissioned for ulterior motives to a larger and more devastating phenomenon that exists internationally. Within every societal structure an artist or collective of creative individuals exist for the same purpose any other working individual may, and that is to survive and to professionalise their career. If organisations and local councils are the only platform wanting to celebrate and excel the arts, partly for aesthetic but mainly for financial gain by aim of attraction, it is simply not the fault of the artist or their curators but lies with the capitalising corporations. It becomes inevitable; artists and those who create the art are existing within a society that is increasing its profitable expectations, the urban texture is their only way of exposure and freedom. Art is only deemed as an aesthetic quality as opposed to an aesthetic integration because of the conflict in visualised preference, therefore art is now becoming an aesthetic commodity. When posed with the question regarding whether artists and curators are fully to blame for gentrification, the answer is simply, no.

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Ipswich Martime Trust. 1982. Russell Whipps Collection HMS Opossum. Image. Fig. One
Flickr. 2014. The Mill. Image. Fig. Two
Bobby Forsythe, 2021, Town Centre. Fig. Three
Bobby Forsythe, 2021, Photograph taken of the Youth Mural. Image Fig. Four
Bobby Forsythe. 2021, Photograph taken of the Sophia Duleep Singh Mural. Image Fig. Five
Bobby Forsythe, 2021, Photograph taken of the Marvel Mural situated along the River Orwell. Fig. Six
Wendy Rose, 2008. Photograph taken of the Ipswich Borough Council Mural. Image. Fig. Seven
Anita Sáne, photographed this art mural created by the artist, Michel Velt. Image Fig. Eight
Ipswich Star, 2013, Scott King in front of his commissioned mural. Image
Bobby Forsythe, 2021, Photograph taken of the street Scott King’s mural once existed. Image

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