An alternative to ‘gentrification’


The second theory proposed by London and Palen is based on a sociocultural explanation of gentrification. This theory argues that values, sentiments, attitudes, ideas, beliefs, and choices should be used to explain and predict human behavior, not demographics. (London and Palen, 1984). This analysis focuses on the changing attitudes, lifestyles, and values of the middle- and upper-middle-class of the 1970s. They were becoming more pro-urban than before, opting not to live in rural or even suburban areas anymore. These new pro-urban values were becoming more salient, and more and more people began moving into the cities. London and Palen refer to the first people to invade the cities as “urban pioneers.” These urban pioneers demonstrated that the inner-city was an “appropriate” and “viable” place to live, resulting in what is called “inner city chic” (London and Palen, 1984)Strutton Ground

We all want the places where we live to be better than they are; around the country, I meet and work with people who are trying to increase opportunities, raise aspirations and create more chances to do great things.

And it’s hard to argue against that. Who doesn’t want better parks, cleaner streets, nicer shops, friendlier cafes, more life in public spaces, a new swimming pool, locally-sourced food, good schools, the opportunity to enjoy the arts, for there to be a little more money in the council’s hands so they can provide more services locally?

The problem, of course, is gentrification – when those things come, the place becomes more desirable, new people want to move in, so the cost of living increases. Some thinkers would have you believe that this is something new, a problem created by a new class of white urban hipsters with beards and bobble hats. While they’re an easy target, it’s not their fault.Brighton

How did Brighton move from being a small fishing village with a huddle of squalid cottages around an open steyne to being the bustling bohemian city it is today? A wave of literal gentry-fication in the 1780s as Londoners bought cheap land, a railway boom in the 1840s which brought the town closer to London still, a decline as a seaside resort in the 1970s and a resurgence as the creative classes leaving London picked up cheap space from the 1970s to the 1990s. And today, property prices are high, living costs more than ever, the poor are struggling and the city has never looked better. There was no single act, no one decision to ‘gentrify’ the neighbourhood.

And we see the same in Brixton, too. Urban designers Spacemakers have been blamed for the gentrification of the neighbourhood. But look more closely, and we see, less the hand of gentrification, than the swirl of a busy, changing city. Yes, they’ve transformed the market in Granville Arcade by bringing in new traders, but that was never a static space. It was 50% empty when they took over, and the traders there were selling to a mix of different local populations. People remembered it as the centre of a vibrant West Indian community, but it hadn’t been that for a long time. Granville Arcade was built as a market for Eastern Eurpoean Jews. As that community left the area post-World War Two, it changed.

Oswald Denniston, passenger on the Empire Windrush, became the first African-Caribbean trader in the Granville Arcade (and, I’m certain that if you want to delve in dusty local paper archives, you’ll find angry stories about how the market is changing beyond recognition as these young, black men replace old Eastern European traders). From the 1960s to the 1980s, it became a market with one strong culture, but during the 1980s and 90s, it faded; a new community, formed around immigrants from the Indian sub-continent moved in. And in the 21st century, it shifted again, half empty until Spacemakers intervened, and the people priced out of Camden, Covent Garden and the East End moved their businesses in.Secondo

Gentrification isn’t the act of some person with authority; it’s not imposed on places by central decree; it’s not dictated. There aren’t property developers looking like people managing the Battle of Britain, a giant plan table with a map of the country, ‘move a squadron of performance artists there and a battalion of web designers here’. That’s not what’s happening.

And neither is it the grand task of local councils. Anyone who’s ever tried to work alongside one, tried to secure planning permission from one, ever worked for one will know that they’re simply not that clever. Yes, they’d like big, shiny developments – but largely, because the perpetual promise of a new swimming pool, ice rink or multiplex cinema keeps local residents passive.

In the last hundred years, we’ve all got better off. We all have a standard of living that would probably be unimaginable to my grandparents, to my great-grandad who was born in Brixton, my grandad who was bombed in Dulwich, my grandma who lived in a terraced house in Worthing and walked 2.4 miles before dawn every day to the house where she was in service.P1020273

And we all expect that to continue. We want that to be even better off; we all want cleaner neighbourhoods and nicer neighbours, better parks and bigger playgrounds, schools that do well and shops that sell good stuff. We want the buzz of the city, the background noise of art, culture and creativity, the diversity of experience, the vibrancy of the street, the taste of good food.

The value of places shifts, changes, moves – Covent Garden was cheap when people said ‘Rhubarb to the Covent Garden Plan’, Camden was affordable when people bought land from crate maker T E Dingwalls – it was the dirt, disease and degradation of boutique-central Seven Dials that inspired Charles Dickens.

So places will change, the richest will become the poorest, new people will move in and old ones will leave. If you’ve got a suggestion for a better way than gentrification, a way to make places better to live in without encouraging more people to want to move there, I’d love to hear it. But I suspect there isn’t one, and that what we’re seeing is part of the natural life of places.


2012 – trains, boats and planes

London 2012The year started in spectacular style, standing on the roof of BBC’s Bush House, broadcasting on the world service, and watch the most incredible firework display London has ever seen. And it didn’t really slow down after that.

I’ve visited London (forty times), Brighton (sixteen times), Enfield (five times), Chichester (three times), and Bedford, Coventry, Guildford, Leeds, Lewes, Littlehampton, Manchester, Margate, Portsmouth, Rochdale (all twice). Add time in Amsterdam, Bexley, Eastbourne, Halifax, the Isle of Wight, Rotterdam, Salford, Shoreham, Southampton, Streatham and Stresa in Italy and it’s been a good year for travelling.

I’ve been out of Worthing on 105 days in 2012. That’s trains, boats and planes all covered. I’ve stayed in hotels that are amazing in Stresa and Margate, appalling in Leeds, and lots that are completely forgettable (Travelodge, Premier Inn and the like).

I’ve been to eco-build BedZed, spent a day on a coach trip around the M25, held a birthday party to celebrate 150 years of Worthing Pier, attended the opening of the London 2012 Olympics in a VIP seat as a guest of the Prime Minister, and been to my first football match since the early 1980s (Team GB women, in Coventry. They lost).

I’ve been on the news a few times, in the papers quite a lot, and made a brief appearance on the Antique’s Roadshow with a shepherd’s smock.

I’ve written the introduction to a book for The Caravan Gallery, published Pop Up People, and in sixteen days writing I wrote Pop Up Business For Dummies. I’ve talked about town centres and empty shops a lot, opened pop up shops in Brighton and Enfield with Retail Ready People, launched #wewillgather in the Houses of Parliament, and talked about agile working, frugal leadership, social media for social good and community organising.

Everywhere I’ve been, it’s as the guest of people doing amazing and inspiring things to make the places they live better. Thank you all for inviting me.

Brighton Photo Fringe

Earlier this year I gave a talk at Fabrica, in Brighton, about how to find unusual exhibition venues. The talk was for Brighton Photo Fringe, and it inspired me as much as (hopefully) it inspired the people who came.

Brighton Photo Fringe launches on Saturday 6th October 2012 and will run until 18th November, and it brings photography and lens-based media to Brighton and Hove, Portslade, St Leonards and Hastings.

This year there will again be exhibitions and events in cafes, community spaces, galleries, empty shops, outdoors and in unusual spaces around the city – 262 exhibitors, 112 exhibitions and 60 venues and 38 events in total are confirmed so far.

The work ranges from ninety nine year old Thurston Hopkins who is widely known as one of the greatest living photojournalists, that of internationally acclaimed artists MacDonaldStrand who will be exhibiting in the grand Regency Town House, street photography of  South Coast cityscapes and people, images of ‘best before’ foodstuffs meticulously documented by the owner’s grandson, images which have featured on the BBC website, a hard hitting gallery in the windows of London Road’s old Co-op building, snap shots of the intriguing world of female fighters and films investigating ideas such as borders, conversation and psychological well being.

Work comes from established artists, film makers and curators as well as first time participants who have found a way into photography with the help of Brighton Photo Fringe.

This year the Fringe Focus hub and information point will move to Phoenix Brighton. Here, the OPEN 2012 solo show will be exhibited alongside a range of events, talks and group and individual shows. This year’s OPEN selected artist is Jinkyun Ahn whose work, ‘On the surface of images’, will be shown here in full for the first time in the UK. An artist originally from South Korea, having studied in the USA, Jinkyun completed his MA in Photography at The Royal College of Art in 2012. He has exhibited widely since 2010, with shows in London, the USA, Switzerland and Italy.

“Brighton Photo Fringe leads the way in the ‘Curation of Participation’. It’s a great opportunity for lens-based artists at all stages of their careers to show work in innovative ways to large audiences, whilst encouraging those audiences to participate and become part of something truly special,” says Claire Lloyd, the festival’s director, “our programme this year takes risks with original and playful events and exhibitions that will inspire and engage, opening up new conversations and provoking debate.”

Photo Fringe welcomed two new artistic consultants earlier this year – Harry Hardie and Afshin Dehkordi – who have worked together to contribute to and deliver a programme of exhibitions and events which draws upon significant local, national and international developments in all photography and lens-based media.

The Fringe is also committed to an exciting and innovative range of participation projects which link with local Brighton and Hove communities as well as forging a relationship with artists and communities nationally and internationally. This year’s Black History Month project will be led by award-winning film maker David Alexander. David will work with local group Bandbazi to explore issues around identity by using masks as a starting point. The outcome of this will be shown at the Fringe Focus alongside other participative projects, including an exhibition of images from workshops completed with Barbados Community College.

You can also follow events as they unfold on Facebook and on Twitter.

All the artists

Image by Dean Barwell - Revolutionary Arts, Pop-Up Gallery

This could take a while, but I’m compiling a list of all the artists we’ve worked with in ten years of Revolutionary Arts. I haven’t listed all the artists who took part in the successful open house schemes we ran in Horsham and Worthing yet…

  • Alice Angus
  • David Armitage
  • Eugenie Arrowsmith
  • Sue Baker
  • The Bamboo Band
  • Ben Barker
  • Dean Barwell (photo – top)
  • Pearl Bates
  • Nathan Bean
  • Dan Belton
  • Big Chill Recordings
  • Nic Blair
  • Steve Bomford
  • Ed Boxall
  • Russ Bravo
  • Robin Brenchley
  • Bob Brighton
  • Tessy Britton
  • Brenda Brooks
  • Caroline Brown
  • Chris Brown
  • Faye Brunning
  • Buckler’s Reel
  • Buzz Theatre
  • James Caldicott
  • Maria Carapeto
  • The Caravan Gallery
  • Steve Carroll
  • Nikki Cheal
  • Sin Mui Chung-Martin
  • Naomi Clark
  • Clothkits
  • Andrew Collins
  • John Collins
  • CoMA Sussex Ensemble
  • Louisa Cook
  • David Cottingham
  • Janine Craye
  • Adrian Crick
  • Anthony Cropper
  • Culture Quarter Programme
  • Susan Cutts
  • Abigail Daker
  • Luna Davenport
  • Harriet Davies
  • Lloyd Davies
  • Michelle Dawson
  • Alexandra Dipple
  • Bianca Donnelly
  • Bill Drummond
  • Lou Durham
  • Melissa Ede
  • Caroline Elderfield
  • John Evans
  • John Farmelo
  • Pete Fijalkowski
  • Christine Forbes
  • Becca Foster
  • Leanne Foster
  • Mark Gaynor
  • Susanna Gibson
  • Gimpo
  • Gerald Glover
  • Kenn Goodall
  • Gary Goodman
  • Dave Gorman
  • Wendy Greene
  • Justine Grice
  • Sheila Guyatt
  • Sue Harding
  • Sally Harris
  • Katherine Haynes
  • Ned Hoskins
  • Sonia Hunt
  • The Ice Prince Orchestra
  • Alison Ingram
  • Sarah Johnson
  • Jessica Jordan
  • Susie Kershaw
  • Christiane Kersten
  • Fozia Khaliq
  • Olga Kohutek
  • Eva Lauermann
  • Hugh Lloyd
  • Sian Lloyd
  • Sam Lock
  • Rose Mackew
  • Daniel Martin
  • Natalie Martin
  • Linda McVeigh
  • Meanwhile Project
  • Natasha Middleton
  • Alison Milner
  • Alison Milner-Gulland
  • MLA
  • Moor Arts
  • Hazel Mortley
  • Paul Munson
  • Blanca Negro
  • Patricia Neve
  • Jonathan Nyati
  • Nick Orsborn
  • Edith Pargh Barton
  • Michael Parkes
  • Nell Pascoe
  • Fred Pipes
  • Geoff Plant
  • Ingrid Plum
  • Ivan Pope
  • Michael Radcliffe
  • Linda Rainbird
  • Rainbow Shakespeare
  • Dayna Richman
  • Tim Riddihough
  • Steve Rowland
  • Joanne Rowling
  • Linda Rush
  • Trevor Rush
  • Justin Sainsbury
  • Ben Salter
  • Sarah Sherry
  • Nirmal Singh Darman
  • Chris Slade
  • Micki Slade
  • Pete Slight
  • South Kilburn Neighbourhood Trust
  • Spacemakers
  • Steve Speller
  • Martine Spencer
  • Spilt Milk Dance
  • Belinda Stephenson
  • Hannah Stewart
  • Teresa Stewart-Goodman
  • Elizabeth Stiles
  • Textile Arts Forum
  • Theatre Akimbo
  • Dan Thompson
  • Netta Thompson
  • Nigel Thompson
  • Tracey Thompson
  • Duncan Thrussell
  • Maggie Tredwell
  • Richard Vobes
  • Clive Vosper
  • Andy Waite
  • Helena Weaver
  • Lisa Weller
  • West Sussex Writers’ Club
  • Caroline Whiteman
  • Georgina Williams
  • Jan Williams
  • Sarah Young
  • Debbie Zoutewelle

Beg, Borrow and Steal – Or ‘How Pitching Fails Artists’

In graphic design, there’s a great debate around the practice of putting a pitch to a client. In effect, you’re asked to work up your ideas in rough and then put them forward for consideration. It’s a lot of time and effort, and there’s always a worry that a client will like your ideas but not your costs and take the idea without paying. It would, of course, be almost impossible to prove that had ever happened.

Even if they don’t steal the idea, the process itself gives the client something for free.

“Clients derive a substantial benefit from being given – at no cost – a range of responses to their brief. This helps them to make … their final choice” says Adrian Shaughnessy in ‘How To Be A Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul’, “and in the case of unscrupulous clients (of which there are fewer than most designers imagine) it affords them an opportunity to steal ideas. In other words, clients are receiving a benefit they do not pay for.”

This morning, in The Argus, I read about a proposal that we had put forward to Brighton and Hove City Council, for a project in one of the city’s junior schools. Well, the trouble was, I read about another group of artists who’d spent a week working on something very similar to the proposal our artists had spent days working on.

“A large-scale, multi-media, interactive installation in the school’s gym,” we’d proposed, “Taking visitors on an imagined journey along Brighton beach” with “Large-scale works on recycled cardboard, a painted canvas backdrop representing the sea, horizon and sky, and old fashioned carousel fairground rides”.

And the school got “cardboard carousels” and “a view of the seafront”, where parents could walk down an “artificial promenade”. I’m not suggesting that the individual artists involved stole our proposal, but I’d be very surprised if our ideas weren’t discussed by the school and the city council, and they used that knowledge when working up the ideas that another group of artists had pitched.

Shaughnessy suggests that “by saying no to pitching, studios and individuals are taking a principled stance – they might also be missing out on opportunities, but the respect they get from taking such a stance outweighs the occasional loss of business.”

He has, I think, a very valid point. I shall be thinking hard on this, and you may well see the Revolutionary Arts Group adopt this ethos. Could we persuade other arts groups to come with us, and concentrate on building relationships with each other and with clients rather than going into battle to win work? Now that would be an interesting journey.

Brighton Photo Biennial – Can Someone Tell Me How It Works?

This week, I’m visiting the Brighton Photo Biennial and (running alongside it) the Brighton Photo Fringe.

Now, I’m an old hand at visiting exhibitions so I know how this works. Well, the leaflet I was given at a Brighton Photo Fringe information stall isn’t a guide to exhibitions, it’s only a guide to venues and doesn’t include any details about exhibitions. So that’s a useless place to start; why not (and this isn’t rocket science) put the two together? Maybe use the A3 space taken up in the venue guide by one single, rather dull image to list all the exhibitions? Then I could find out what’s on.

So – next step is the Brighton Photo Fringe website. Of course, the guide to venues doesn’t actually have the website’s address on it, but I can use Google. And here, everything looks rosy. Only one slight problem; the website shows a sample image fro each exhibition, it lists all the venues, and it catalogues all the artists. It doesn’t have any ‘search by date’ option though, and not all the events are on all the time. Some are just for one weekend, sometime between 3rd October and 16th November. So to find out if I can visit things tomorrow, I’ve got to check every one of about 60 events. I don’t think I’ll bother.

So – if I can’t find out about the Fringe, I’ll try the Brighton Photo Biennial website. It starts with a pointless splash page, with the awful words ‘enter site’. But … I’ve already typed your address into my browser, surely that should be enough to let me look at your website? But no.

So, what am I going to find inside? You guessed it – a website with architecture even more rotten than the Fringe site. Firstly, where do you reckon the Brighton Photo Biennial takes place? Well, you’re wrong. Two exhibitions are in Brighton, the others are in Battle, Bexhill on Sea, Chichester, Portsmouth and Winchester. 

And it gets harder than that. Each exhibition has been broken down into three elements; exhibition, artists, and venue. So if you choose Don McCullin from the ‘artists’ page; you then have to click another link to find which exhibition he’s actually in; and another link to find which venue the exhibition’s in (and of course, which town it’s in!). If you’re lucky, you’ve found an exhibition in the town you’re visiting and the venue page will tell you where the venue is and when it’s open. Don’t count on it, though.

Brighton Photo Biennial is organised by ‘Julian Stallabrass and a series of scholars’. Your Festival may well ‘illumine through an examination of the media the conditions of conflict, imperialism and expropriation, historically and into the present’ and ‘elicit intimations of the collective and individual memory of such images, their forgetting and revision, and their rebirth at times of crisis and war’ but that’s doesn’t mean anything* if people can’t actually find out how to visit the thing. 

And finally, a word to Arts Council England and Brighton and Hove City Council, both sponsoring the event. Could you, perhaps, insist that events you give money to make it a bit easier to find out what’s going on and encourage visitors? Thank you.

*Read it carefully, and it really doesn’t mean anything anyway – it’s just a vain attempt to make taking snaps sound clever.

Brighton Art Fair 2008

Brighton Art Fair (known to friends as BAF) is back at the city’s Corn Exchange. The annual show is organised by Worthing artists  Jon Tutton and Sarah Young, who have brought together a great collection of painters with just enough quirky artists to make the whole show interesting.

There’s a full review on Artists and Makers, picking out the best of the bunch, but here’s a more personal take from last night’s private view.

Firstly, will somebody buy me a painting by Christopher Noulton. His odd little paintings capture an old-fashioned England, full of milkfloats and whicker men, Routemaster buses and round edges of Art Deco architecture. If you like Ladybird books or Thomas The Tank Engine illustrations, you’ll join me in starting a Noulton fan club.

Natalie Martin is similarly brilliant, with a series of brooding, slightly menacing paintings that capture lost corners of buildings and deserted staircases in almost architectural detail. I’ve known Nat for a long time now (we used to exhibit at Contemporary Gallery events and at Brighton Art Market) and back then she produced installations and odd assemblages. ‘I didn’t know I could paint like this,’ she said modestly at the private view last night.

Make sure you check out The Arthouse, hidden away by the cloakroom. They produce editions of work by people with learning difficulties, and it’s all marvellous stuff. Might treat myself to that rock ‘n’ roll T-shirt.

And make sure you avoid Fran Docherty’s pottery. I do since she had a go at me at a previous BAF preview. She didn’t like my suggestion in a Brigton Festival review that the Fiveways Open House Trail was the art establishment these days… and the Fiveways committee were ‘considering taking action’ apparently. If ever I go missing, you know who’s to blame.

But do find Sam Lock‘s chunky, all-male abstracts, painted on nice bits of wood and feeling like they’ve been chiselled off the walls of buildings facing demoliton. Like Natalie, he’s an old friend from Brighton Art Market and he’s a very nice chap. A masterful (and again, very modest) painter.

Have fun finding the roosting birds, carved by recent graduate Chris Knight.

Before you leave, make sure you say hello to Democrat-supporting resident of Virginia, Farhanna Hussain, who got very excited by my Barack Obama badge.

And one last thing – if you see Fred Pipes, say hello. He didn’t appear to be at the preview last night. Maybe he said something critical of Fiveways in his blog, eh?