‘Art-wash’ or ‘art washing’ is a relatively new term being used to critique corporate sponsorship of the arts and the growing urban re-generation and  gentrification of areas in the city.

Generally speaking, emerging artists tend to be on lower income and therefore live in parts of the city where the rent is cheaper and/or to live alongside other artists. Artists presence then makes the area seem ‘trendy’ or ‘hip’ which sees more interest and attention from people as an ‘up and coming’ or ‘cultural’ area, which leads to more attention or interest given to the area, leading to people wanting to move there and ultimately sees the area develop due to investors. To the detriment of the local artists and people with grassroots the rent gets higher because of demand, and long standing communities are forced to move on as a result. What can be seen happening now, is councils and large building companies are trying to emulate the same effect, by strategically moving artists into areas of the city they want to see developed. What also can be seen happening is these corporate businesses commissioning street and public ‘artworks’  to improve their reputation and to work as a cover up/ distraction from all the ugly they are doing at sites of demolition and clearance. The artists who carry out these commissions, (unwittingly or not) and indeed, even new artists who move and interact in these areas need to be questioned. Artist Laura Owens and Gavin Brown came under recent attack from protesters at a reception for her retrospective at the Whitney Museum in opposition to the project 356 S. Mission Rd which both artists are involved with which is seeing the opening of new galleries in the  working-class neighborhoods of Harlem and Chinatown, with the hashtag trending on Instagram #DefendtheHoodfromNYC. With issues close to home like London’s housing crisis, ‘culture’ is a slippery concept.

Culture for who? Culture for purely economic reasons? For private capital? The elitist?

Interested to hear some of your thoughts…



Yasmine Robinson