Warhol Croydon Month: How free public art is bringing Croydon back to life

Warhol Croydon Month brought together a landmark collection of free exhibitions, installations, lectures and workshops across Croydon in homage to pop-art icon Andy Warhol.

With 114 events throughout September, the project – the brainchild of RISEgallery founder Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison – was an immersive experience which reached far and wide into the Croydon community.

While acknowledging the work of Warhol at its foundation, the impact of the project lies within the wider community.

When questioned on his inspiration for the project, Kevin focused heavily on society.

“When you hear the word ‘community’ in art, it sometimes conjures up the perception of not having much gravitas,” he said.

Kevin aims to change this perception and “bring acknowledgement to art outside the institutional environment.”

As he points out with a wry smile, “why can’t serious art be enjoyed in a 1960s shopping mall too?”

The project ultimately envisioned a process of regeneration in Croydon through cultural engagement by placing art in a “realistic setting, where people live, spend their lives, and go to school.”

Lamenting on schools and governments cutting their arts budgets, Kevin stipulated that all his events should be free and un-ticketed.

While many of his backers, and more importantly his accountants struggled with this idea, it ultimately proved a great success.

“It allowed us to galvanize a widespread engagement with art, from Warhol connoisseurs, to those experiencing Warhol for the very first time.”

This included extensive outreach programmes for children, ethnic minorities, and the disabled.

While Kevin says that working with minority groups was “an absolute privilege,” he also stresses that communities are in need of more public art initiatives.

Art may indeed be “something that transcends ages and creeds,” yet it is becoming increasingly inaccessible, and Kevin believes it is important to keep engaging London’s diverse communities because “culture forms an invaluable means of bringing us together.”

The project’s agenda also forms the backbone of Croydon’s regeneration strategy.

Croydon BID (Business Improvement District) aims to use music, culture and art to present Croydon in a new light and galvanise regeneration, such as the newly-opened Boxpark.

The organisation sees public art as a catalyst, indivisible from economic and environmental regeneration, and chief executive Matthew Sims, one of Warhol Month’s main backers, believes it is working.

“Croydon has had its knocks, and its perception to deal with,” Matthew said.

“All the money Croydon BID has invested in Warhol Croydon is from the business community, so they are 100% behind it.

“Croydon is becoming more confident, it now has a personality of its own.”

A Croydon council spokesperson echoed the invaluable impact of public art initiatives.

He said: “Temporary public art projects such as Warhol Croydon help pave the way for more permanent changes. Public art can express the character and identity of a place and help preserve both its personality and heritage.”

But beyond the opportunity for regeneration and investment, the project ultimately aimed to “stay true to Croydon,” according to Kevin.

It was about providing access to art for all demographics, fostering community through culture, and in turn breaking down barriers.

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