London's creative responses to the riots
Coordinating the clean up
Now the worst of London’s riots are over, locals are coming up with some creative responses to the chaos. So what’s the best role for the arts?
With all the broken windows, there is a lot of mess in the streets. Riot Clean Up is an initiative started by British artist Dan Thompson to encourage Londoners to get out and help clean up the areas affected by the riots.
He’s using a twitter account, @riotcleanup to try to coordinate the response - it has more than 90,000 followers.
Artists groups have got involved here, with organisations like Guerrilla Gardening busy cleaning up smashed glass and taking away rubble.
But it's difficult to know if this is the best place for artists to put their effort. In most London boroughs, the clean up has been done by the council before the campaign even started - they’ve tweeted to ask the volunteers to go elsewhere.
Damage is superficial (broken windows and burnt bins) and can be dealt with by the professional street cleaners, or structural (as in burnt out buildings) and needs construction professionals.
Reports from clean ups in Hackney, Brixton and Tottenham all suggested it was a waste of everyone’s time and money. One area targeted, Clapham, sold out of brooms.
So can architects provide a more useful contribution? There is the “post-riot urban interventions” of Riot rebuild.
They say this has “been launched to help those devastated by the recent riots rebuild their homes, businesses and communities.”
“Riot Rebuild: post-riot urban interventions, has brought together people with the ability, skills and know-how to get the rebuilding process underway and completed as soon as possible in all affected towns and cities across England.”
But it's not yet clear what they actually intend to do. And extraordinarily, considering some of London is still smouldering, this project already has a Public Relations agency attached to it. This makes it feel cynical and it seems likely to be another example of slacktivism.
Connecting the community
So the best creative responses are those that come spontaneously and that are genuinely inclusive - and show how the arts can build community and help prevent the sort of outbursts we've seen.
The most quoted response was by a community theatre group, Peckham Shed, who started a community tribute wall on the boarded-up window of a looted shop.
"Why we love Peckham", had queues of local residents signing bright Post-it notes with messages for the city.
Messages included: "Don't destroy my beautiful city", "Diversity + jerk chicken" and "We are bigger than them".
This creative approach to community building is the best fit for London’s arts organisations. Part of the reason for this is that this level of violence, in a huge city like London, is spectacular but not completely unusual.
During the riots there have been nearly 900 arrests. But on a normal four day period the police would make 3,000 arrests anyway.The lesson for the arts? Focus on the community, not the clean up.
Photos: Thanks to Stuart Matthews