‘Artwashing’ gentrification is a problem – but vilifying the artists involved is not the answer – Anna Francis Notes

There are areas I agree with Anna Francis (2017) in the article ”Artwashing’ gentrification is a problem – but vilifying the artists involved is not the answer’ and other areas I don’t. In this post I’ll outline my reasoning why.

I agree with Anna Francis’ basic premise that is the title of her article: “‘Artwashing’ gentrification is a problem – but vilifying the artists involved is not the answer” (Francis, 2017). ‘Artwashing’ is a problem because artists’ work can be exploited for the developer’s own motives which usually means gentrification in the context of regeneration. Whether gentrification is negative or not is another matter but the artists involved accept they lose their autonomy when they are commissioned. However, drawing attention to and labelling such artists as ‘artwashers’ is not that helpful in my opinion. Instead, I would say artists could be made more aware of the complications of taking on a commission and make sure their views coincide with a local authority or developer’s.

One area I am not so sure I agree with is the note Francis ends on by saying: “Artists have a role to play in both questioning the processes of regeneration, but also, I believe, in supporting communities within these places to articulate their experience, and to advocate for their rights. Far from being an artwash, this can be a celebratory and cathartic activity – even if the outcome, eventually, is the same.” (Francis, 2017). I think the first sentence of this quote is fine but the second sentence contradicts it somewhat – Francis neglects to mention art that is complicit in gentrifying an area. It would be okay if urban redevelopment benefitted everyone but unfortunately gentrification can lead to displacement. As Emily Jost (2017) forcibly remarks: “This activity can never be “celebratory and cathartic” for the people who have had to uproot their families, lose their homes and support networks and be “decanted” to places where the land is less valuable.” While it is certainly important to give voice to people’s concerns about new developments, the artist should be familiar with how their work may be used, and how in some cases this can be a catalyst for gentrification.

References:

Francis, A. (2017) ‘Artwashing’ gentrification is a problem – but vilifying the artists involved is not the answer’ In: The Conversation 05/10/2017. At: https://theconversation.com/artwashing-gentrification-is-a-problem-but-vilifying-the-artists-involved-is-not-the-answer-83739 (Accessed 14/12/2020).

Jost, E. (2017) Challenging the artwashing of social cleansing means calling out and critiquing artists involved. At: https://colouringinculture.org/blog/callingoutartwashingartists (Accessed 14/12/2020).

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