When Leeds City Council approved the recommendation to bid for European Capital of Culture, they did so on the condition that the ‘bid must be for the benefit of the whole city […] ensuring that discussions, events, exhibitions and activities take place in every community’.
This mantra has informed many choices since, from the infrastructural developments by Leeds Beckett and The University of Leeds in support of the bid, to the elder community’s representation in an exhibition on loneliness in The Leeds City museum.
I would argue that one of the best ways to engage the younger generation, who have been left feeling voiceless following their overwhelming votes for Remain and a Labour government proving fruitless, would be to include a commitment towards the development of street art within our bid.
Street art has already begun to develop a positive voice on our city’s streets, one which challenges the common notion of it being vandalism.
The ‘Athena Rising’ mural, painted on what was previously known as City House near Leeds City Station, is the tallest work of street art in the UK at 137ft, and has been met with applause both critically and in the public sphere.
Furthermore, ArtOfficial recently became Leeds’s first street art orientated store. Situated on Kirkgate and selling everything from paint canisters, clothing and magazines, the shop has quickly became the centre of a creative hub.
Owner of the shop and local Leeds graffiti artist, Bretski, has been keen to show the positive impact street art can have, teaming up with fellow artists Klone and Eject to decorate a scrap car according to direction from the audience in Trinity in 2014.
Perhaps the most important possibility for allowing street art to flourish in our city would be the possibility it gives for disillusioned young people to express themselves, to create for themselves a voice where they have been denied one previously. The act of putting your own thoughts and ideas up in a public place, which previously has been only accessible to advertising agencies and property owners, creates a sense of power and influence in the younger generation which they dearly need.
It is for this reason that street art should become a critical part of our bid for European City of Culture.
To follow the steps of other world renowned metropolitan hubs, such as Bristol, who have created designated ‘graffiti walls’, would lead to the vision which the bid is working towards, that of a vibrant, colourful, empowering environment.
Reece Parker is Editor-in-Chief of The Gryphon at Leeds University.