Last week we debated whether artists can afford to make a living in cities. The lively discussion that ensued on our facebook page paved the way to flip the spotlight onto the responsibilities of urban development. If artists have an impact on regeneration, can cities afford to not support them?

Rachel Whiteread, 'C: Trowbridge Estate, London E9; Hannington Point; Hilmarton Point; Deverill Point; June 1995' 1996
Rachel Whiteread
C: Trowbridge Estate, London E9; Hannington Point; Hilmarton Point; Deverill Point; June 1995 1996
Screenprint on paper
image: 490 x 743 mm
Purchased 1996© Rachel Whiteread

In 2008 Liverpool was crowned European Capital of Culture and received 9.7 million additional visitors and over £735 million worth of additional spending. In a report on culture-led regeneration research initiative Impacts 08 found that:

In total, grants and in-house activity… created over 66,000 days of artist work in 2008 and 123,000 over the four year programme. This is equivalent to an average of 140 full-time artists’ jobs for a period of four years.

The eastern Slovakian city and industrial steel hub Košice – joint holder of the European Capital of Culture 2013 title with Marseille, France – started festivities at their Grand Opening Show on 20 January with similar élan in a pyro-musical to a reported audience of 40,000. The Project Košice Interface 2013 asserts that thanks to this new title:

the city shall also become the centre of creativity and a new future for young, creative people who wish to live and work in our city, which is their home.

This year sees Derry-Londonderry as the inaugural UK City of Culture city and on 1 January the cultural festival kicked-off with a bang. Yet for a city to recognise and respect its roots, foster art and artists and make plans for regeneration can seem an impossible task – particularly in a post-Olympic London – as touched upon in your comments last week:

Vica Jung said:

artists are also responsible for [these] real estate valuations, they add charm to forgotten neighborhoods and they attract “influx of hipsters tourists”, like was said in Berlin protests. Authorities should guarantee special rents to artists not only because they develop local culture, but also because they are helping indirectly the increase of other rents around them…artists can be considered triggers to many of these real state valuations and people have to acknowledge this, so artists can still live in cities that themselves help to create.

Jon Measures Artist said:

… you work really hard [as a full-time artist] you have a chance to make a living almost anywhere but it is never easy and there are no guarantees, that is why it’s so much fun to try…although geography plays a part, the internet in particular and other modern sociological and technological changes are melting the space that separates us.

If regeneration is on the cards, does it matter if it arises organically out of a grassroots gathering of artists, or is driven by policy makers? Dalston in East London has undergone a sea change of gentrification as a result of its appeal prompted by the emergence of a thriving artist and creative community. In light of multi-million pound developments there is a perceptible threat of a ‘mono-culture environment’ as argued by local and founder of campaign group OPEN Dalston Bill Parry-Davis in Alex Rayner’s article on the ‘death of Dalston’:

many of the artists and musicians who made it a thriving cultural centre can no longer afford to live in the area…the redundant factories and warehouses they once occupied are being redeveloped for private housing.

Utrecht and Rotterdam in the Netherlands are experiencing the effects of artist-accompanied urban regeneration initiated by housing corporations as explored by cultural geographers Martin Zebracki and Lévi Smulders. Eiland8 in Kanaleneiland, Utrecht sees soon to be demolished housing occupied by artists to improve the area. In November 2012 Kunstenzone in Oud-Charlois, Rotterdam saw the opening of affordable live-work spaces for artists, created in the hope of setting the area as a cultural hub to attract visitors. Zebracki warns against a:

‘public artopia’; that is, injecting essentialist thought about art and culture into an area entails a utopian dream.

Perhaps with all this talk of bringing back terraced streets to our cities this is a time to question all aspects of perceived ‘quick fix’ approaches to urban regeneration.

Is there a danger in thinking including artists in regeneration plans will routinely have a positive influence on an area? What part do you think artists play in urban regeneration? What part could artists play and what part should they play? Is the involvement of art and artists in urban regeneration a utopian dream? To dream or not to dream. Let’s debate.



Artists have always played a major role in Urban Regeneration and there is no reason why this trend will ever stop. Think of Chelsea or Nottinghill in London or even Venise beach in LA . Artists moved there because they couldn't afford elsewhere and slowly but surely with the vibe and energy they never fail to spread , these areas flourished and attracted more people and eventually potential investors that took them to completely new heights. Areas following the same path Hoxton in London ,downtown LA , and eventually Shoreditch and Brick Lane (London) , Mar Mkheyel (Beirut) .