From The Bronx to Brick Lane: The rise of street art tourism in Shoreditch
For many visitors, street art tours are a must-do on the London list, along with spotting the ravens at the Tower of London or enjoying the view from the Shard.
Alex Mardi, a Bangkok-based artist, says: “I came from Thailand to London because of the street art. There is a lot of it here: it’s the perfect place to come.”
Tons of incredible street art on Brick Lane in London. Amazing! http://t.co/VUFkcoVkW8
— Zak White (@PastorZakWhite) June 25, 2013
From the Bronx to Brick Lane
Street art originally evolved from the New York City graffiti culture in the 1960s (see video here), especially in the Bronx, prompted by social instability and anti-establishment movements. This rebellious form of art rapidly spread, with artists tagging their names to their work but remaining anonymous, a well-known characteristic of the graffiti community.
For artists, it was a way of rebelling against society. But for the authorities, it meant trouble and high costs for cleaning up. Throughout time, as street art continued to spread throughout cities, particularly in European countries during times of social turmoil, the public looked upon it more favourably.
Street art and tours
According to Dave Stuart, a tour guide at Shoreditch Street Art Tours and expert on the topic, appreciation of street art has greatly increased over the last few years. “About five or eight years ago you stood out if you had a camera and took a picture [of street artworks]” he says. “One time, I was asked if I was a policeman.”
Now, he says, street art is part of the community. There is always someone with a camera or an iPhone, snapping pictures of a friend standing next to a Ben Eine or Shepard Fairey classic, with their thumbs up and a smile of accomplishment for having found the famous piece.
“It is no longer viewed as vandalism. People think it’s funny, interesting or beautiful.” -Dave Stuart
Miguel Fabre, a musician and computer engineering student, stumbled into the East End last year while studying a semester abroad in London. “I happened to go to Shoreditch with a friend I met in London and it was worth the surprise. In fact, I went back before I left for Spain,” he says.
Though other cities around the world, such as Paris and New York, also feature prominent street art, Dave says that other locations lack London’s unique structure. According to Dave, it was the “punk” attitude of the east that developed a unique global infrastructure around galleries, studios, media and fan-based buying. Once these elements came together, they made the Shoreditch area what it is today.
More than a dozen websites have been created, where art fans can sign up for a tour of the best street art in London. And for those not sure about joining a group, Streetartlondon.co.uk created an iPhone app that allows users to view a map showing where to find the trendy pieces. It also features filters so that users can find a specific artist or share their favourite street art with friends, as well as a news section, which provides updates on the latest street art developments.
“The satisfaction of seeing people enjoy it is constant and rewarding in a way that no other job I ever had was,” Stuart smiles. “I never had anybody not enjoy the tour.”
Further information about street art tours in East London:
- Shoreditch Street Art Tours
- Street Art London Tours
- Alternative London
- Insider London: Graffiti and Street Art Tours
- Aerosol Planet: UK Graffiti Tours
- The London Street Art Tour
- London Detours
- Unseen Tours: London’s Street Voices
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