I did a talk at Diffusion ‘Revolution’ Festival Symposium at Cardiff University today.  I’ve uploaded my presentation with notes here.  Click the link below to read it and remember to turn notes on in bottom right hand corner of presentation when it loads…  The talk is called Artwashing: From Mining Capital to Harvesting Social Capital.

In the talk, I define five types of artwashing:

  • Corporate artwashing
  • Developer-led artwashing
  • Local authority artwashing
  • Arts-led artwashing
  • Community artwashing

The talk summarises some of the case studies explored in my forthcoming PhD thesis.



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Comments always welcome.

0 thoughts on “Artwashing: From Mining Capital to Harvesting Social Capital – Cardiff presentation

    • Stephen Pritchard says:

      Thanks François! I think it is time we started looking at the creative industries critically and historically. The government encourages arts and cultural institutions to focus on people and place, on using disused/empty buildings, on developing corporate, local government and third sector partnerships, and on greater corporate investment. Put this together and it is little wonder that arts organisations (and artists for that matter) are working with property developers and urban regeneration projects! I argue that documents like the Culture White Paper, for example, are recipes for artwashing; that artwashing is state-sanctioned policy.

  1. The issues you raise here are fascinating and definitely need to be discussed and debated. I completely agree that the use of art and creativity by developers and local authorities to sell and ‘improve’ places is an intentional and clear manipulation and leads to cultural and social cleansing of communities. I recognise and am frustrated by the adoption within the planning profession (which was previously meant to be a public service) of terms like place-making as a process for rebranding and commodifying areas. There seems to be little in the way of dissenting voices certainly in Scotland where I live.
    It is when it comes to the final two categories that I become more conflicted. Through my own research I have seen how artists and communities through their own enacting of their own ideals of what a place should be, create situations where other groups are marginalised or displaced as a result of the market or state capitalising on their activities. However, I don’t believe that it is always the intention of those involved or that they are always compliant. I think in many cases they genuinely think they are acting in the social interest – why wouldn’t everyone want what I want?! In fact I think many would feel very negatively if they realised the upshot of their actions (and not only because it sometimes also leads to their own eventual displacement). While this isn’t really an excuse, who should be responsible for ensuring that this doesn’t happen; for taking a wider view of community activity and speaking out for underrepresented voices?
    I would be really interested in your views on community based arts and ‘heritage’ (though I hate the term) activities in areas which are not under an immediate threat of redevelopment or displacement e.g. oral memory projects or arts projects based around ‘celebrating’ local history. Do you consider them in the same light, as something that will inevitably lead to displacement or dispossession, or do you think that they can be an alternative way to profile ‘other’ narratives of place and shed light on some of the issues with which you are concerned?

    • Stephen Pritchard says:

      Hi Hannah and thanks for your comment. Very interesting.
      I would say that community artwashing and arts-led artwashing is specifically observable when it is artwashing. In other words, an intentional act to deceive, to misuse or abuse trust. Not all art is artwashing. It is all about intent. Some are which is not artwashing may still contribute to gentrification or displacement and dispossession, but if this is not intentional or exploiting people’s trust (as it often isn’t) then it is not artwashing. Ultimately, my point is that it is usually not the fault or intention of artists or community members to artwash. Rather, it is the intention of the state, local authorities, developers, ‘placemaking’ agencies, consultants (and sometimes large arts organisations and state agencies such as Arts Council England, etc.) to collude on ‘planned’ zoning of areas for renewal… Artists, community members, small business owners and even hipsters are almost always pawns in the regeneration game. However, there are many cases in which these greater forces do not intervene with well-meaning acts of local creativity, so artists, community members et al. are not always pawns… I guess it’s about relative autonomy, if that makes sense? I’d love to chat more and hear more about your own work/ research, if you’re up for it? Best, Stephen.

      • Hi Stephen,
        Thanks for your response. I’d definitely welcome the opportunity to chat some more. As I say I think it is a really interesting topic, but one which I struggle with in terms of who/what criticism should be aimed at. I agree with what you say about intent being a measure, but it also seems to be a difficult one. I think many community organisations, groups and artists would admit that they are intentionally using art or creative practice as a means of ‘improving’ localities because they believe it has social benefits or gives a place ‘identity’, but maybe don’t intend for that to be deceptive or abuse trust? In fact they are often trying to preserve aspects of the ‘the past’ and using nostalgia and history in their work. They have simply bought into the ideas and rhetoric around place-making and heritage and just don’t necessarily understand or question the consequences of this or why that might not be the right approach. This seems to be the case in urban planning (which is my background originally). Everything is dressed up in a positive way and there are so few voices being critical that people just begin to accept what is fed to them and spouting the same platitudes and soundbites.

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