Return of trailblazing street art party

Pioneering Whitecross festival back to its full scale

Friday, 8th July — By Joe Coughlan

Chris East in Whitecross Street

Chris East in Whitecross Street

GRAFFITI cans are at the ready for a pioneering street art festival taking place this weekend – with new artworks set to line a road near Old Street.

Ready for its 12th edition, the annual Whitecross Street party on Saturday will see artists complete live paintings on poster boards.

The format has been mimicked across the country since the first event. The artworks will remain in place on the road for the coming year, before being painted over during next year’s party.

Chris East, chief organiser of the festival, said: “It’s amazing to watch when they’re working with such a big scope. We exhibit the work, so while the event is live street art, from Monday it becomes an all-year-round exhibition called ‘Rise of the Nonconformists’.”

Being on Whitecross Street, the annual event is linked to the nearby Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, a cemetery for 19th-century Nonconformists such as William Blake, who used poetry and artwork to express his defiant views.

“In terms of religious speaking, they were breaking the mould of their generation. So street artists, in a sense, are the ones who are doing that nowadays,” said Mr East. “It’s an interesting heritage. And that’s where the party was born 12 years ago, to take on the spirit of Nonconformism and continue to apply it in a community setting.”

Islington-based Perspicere will be among the artists at the festival and is known for his innovative use of thread to create circular portraits. This weekend will see the artist making a world-record attempt to produce the largest portrait made using sewing thread.

Recently, the festival has pushed for more female representation within the exhibition, with street artist Lours having designed this year’s poster.

Lours also helped start WOM, a female collective of street artists, who will also feature at the event.

“It’s a growing industry, and historically has been very male-dominated. But now there’s a real growing female ownership of it as well,” said Mr East.

While the party took place in 2021, after being cancelled the previous year due to the Covid pandemic, this weekend will see it return to its full scale.

To celebrate, this year’s theme is “reclaiming public space.”

“It’s a response to Covid in terms of people’s nervousness of going out, celebrating or partying,” said Mr East.

“The party is for the local community, and we want them to have ownership of their community.

“I think street artists as well are very keen on reclaiming back public places and making them community spaces. We’re really passionate about that.”

As a non-profit event, the party is hosted by YMCA London City and North. This year organisers have secured funding from Arts Council England, allowing for greater community engagement processes such as bunting and street processions during the event.

The party itself is funded by the councillors of Bunhill Ward, using proceeds from new building developments in the area.

The Whitecross Street Party is free to attend and is on July 9 and 10 from 12-6pm.

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