In order to "clean up" for the Olympics, the work of local street artists was painted over on the industrial stretch of London's River Lea Navigation. While this angered the artists and community, they couldn't be more incensed than they are now. They are rightfully upset, because the Olympics' public arts commission, Legacy List, has decided to commission the work of non-local artists to fill these walls once again.
The Guardian reports that the decision to hire international artists was very intentional, and Sarah Weir, head of the Legacy List, says, “We unashamedly wanted to showcase the best international artists and transform this part of the canal into a destination for street art. We want it to have the same energy as somewhere like Camden—I hope people will come on boat tours to see the work.” The project's curator adds, “We're trying to make a museum-quality exhibition in a public space."
At what point does a desire to increase tourism and uplift a neighborhood go too far, though? The new buildings have murals by artists from Brazil, Sweden, Italy, Scotland, and the Netherlands, ignoring the work of the British street artists who made these areas popular in the first place.
Some would say that this is just the typical course of gentrification, which doesn't bode well with the community of artists whose work is as legitimate as that of their international peers. It's a step towards commercializing spaces, and it taints the image of these Olympics' organizations, as well. By using street art as a business and tourism tool, it takes away from the magic and power of the medium. Perhaps hiring and celebrating local artists could accomplish the same ends.