Influence of Street Art in the United Kingdom

Published 03/15/2024 in Scholar Travel Stipend
Written by Riya Singh | 03/15/2024

As opposed to the art in museums and at exuberantly priced galleries, there is art that the everyday commoner passes by on the daily: street art. The origins of street art are unknown, though the 1960s served as an influential era in a time period where turmoil, unrest, and major social and political changes were underway. Its popularity became an epicenter for opinion and influence (Cowick, 2015). With its public display, and ever changing canvas, street art is an eclectic and powerful medium. Three English cities capture its powerful influence: Brighton, London, and Lewes.


It was no surprise that the street art in London had clear intentions. In the heart of the city, along the Thames, the statues of Rabbitwoman and Dogman stand tall and proud. Interesting and playful, at first, enticing many tourists with a Photo Op. But, a deeper message lay behind the seemingly whimsical art. The prolific public artists Gillie and Marc, have crafted a tale of diversity and inclusion in a unified front to preserve our globe, as they bring together a diverse set of animals as friends. The juxtaposition underlines the metaphor of collaboration and unity, despite background, appearance, or beliefs, as climate change will readily affect us all, and the only way to combat it is to take strides together. From the desert to domesticity, these characters come together in powerful interactive sculptures that insert the onlooker into the equation. Now in this unseemly balance of animals, we ourselves have to see the commonality between us all, emphasizing our role and complicity in environmentalism.

These sculptures have garnered worldwide attention and are even spotted in New York and Singapore. Their art’s contemporary message of conservation has resulted in heightened awareness along with increased donations and funds for the protection of endangered animals (Schattner & Schattner). This is Rabbitwoman and Dogman’s second time in London, and passersby find them to be an integrated part of their daily lives. "I walk by them every day, and I think their message is powerful," said a fellow Londoner. Beyond its visual aesthetic, street art in London has been a catalyst for discussion, and real change in the issues of global warming through social awareness. 


ImageMy first day out in Brighton, I was captivated by the juxtaposition of the gloomy weather with the pure vibrancy of the city’s street art.Brighton’s unique cultural identity values communal contribution to street art, with community murals and engagement that largely shape local identity. According to the 2021 Census, 26% of Brighton residents identify as an ethnic minority, while 1 in 10 residents identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community (Brighton & Hove City Council, 2021). Brighton boasts one of the most diverse communities throughout East Sussex. Without disappointment, the street art reflects this vibrant community. 

Starting at The Prince Albert Pub, I am faced with Brighton’s most well known art piece: The Kissing Coppers. A stencil, created by notorious street artist and activist Banksy whose identity remains anonymous. Upon a mural of 20 and 21st century artists, this mural has been framed off with a plexiglass seal, and is only a recreation of the original after notorious defacings of the original. Among the largely supportive LGBTQ+ community, Banksy’s art employs homosexuality as an instance of a common identity facing discrimination, aiming to challenge the morality and social conscience of individuals in authority positions.

International Animal RescueIn addition to addressing outstanding societal issues, Brighton’s artists draw inspiration from the city’s coastal heritage, infusing a myriad of oceanic themes throughout the city. From the top of the double decker bus, I pass countless murals depicting marine life, whether on the front of pubs or tucked between hidden alleyways. Each dawns a different story, some portray cheerful sealife, others depict oil stricken crustaceans and birds begging for rescue. No surprise then that wildlife organizations advertise throughout these murals, in particular the International Animal Rescue, which feature a scenic greenery with portraits of orangutans on the brick facades. These murals corroborate the long term goals of Brighton, who aim to be carbon neutral by 2030 (Brighton & Hove City Council, 2021). 

The Brighton government promotes a collective commitment to community through initiatives such as the Urban Art Wall, an intentional space for communal participation in showcasing their street art designs. Endorsed by the city, it hopes to promote high quality street art, in a positive and non-destructive manner (Brighton & Hove City Council). Across the city, expressions of appreciation and self love adorn the streets. Urban Art Wall6From “We Love Brighton” murals on rooftops and shop fronts, a mural honoring NHS workers of the pandemic as angels, abstract art pieces symbolizing the solidarity between women to murals of the working class in Hannington Lane portrayed as tired souls, Brighton encapsulates a rich tapestry of public art work that reflect strong morals, community, and progressiveness. 


A train ride away from Brighton lies the quaint town of Lewes, which is among one of the wealthiest towns in East Sussex according to the 2021 census (Evans, 2021). A main goal for this city is to reduce the poverty gap through initiatives focused on youth and minority groups. The town lacks the vibrancy of Brighton, but accidentally I stumbled upon pieces of street art next to the train station, in collaboration with U CAN Spray. It soon became clear that all street art in Lewes was made in collaboration with the Lewes District and U CAN Spray. U CAN Spray founded in 2017, is a non-profit that hopes to inspire youth in cultural engagement and transform the lives of the unemployed through the aspects of professional art making through spray paint (U CAN Spray, 2017). By harnessing the strength of street art as a medium the town of Lewes, is helping to empower the vulnerable and disengaged within their community.



Street art goes beyond colorful decoration in these English communities; it serves as a poignant reminder of societal issues, compelling action from society. Aligned with the Milken Institute’s mission statement, street art illuminates issues of the past, present, and future from climate change to LGBTQ+ rights, to bring awareness and change the trajectory of our path into a sustainable and meaningful life. Time and time again, I was faced with murals that were eye-catching, but upon further investigation had garnered support and started initiatives within the community. Sometimes, a visually appealing medium is the best way to lead our steps into the future. Initiatives like those in Lewes with U CAN Spray support the strides to productive and satisfying lives through educational, cultural and artistic immersion just as the Milken Family Foundation emphasizes. Throughout this trip, I learned a lot about the importance of mobilizing art for a greater good. Street art is not just colors on a pavement, but actually unites communities and shapes a more progressive and understanding world. U CAN Spray3



Brighton & Hove City Council. (2021a). Brighton & Hove Demographics. hove-demographics

Brighton & Hove City Council. (2021b). Full carbon neutral 2030 program. rbon-neutral-2030-programme

Brighton & Hove City Council. (n.d.). Public Art: Urban art wall. ban-art-wall

Cowick, C. (2015). Preserving street art: Uncovering the challenges and obstacles. Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America, 34(1), 29–44.

Evans, T. (2021). The Lewes District Local Strategic Partnership. Lewes District.

Schattner, G., & Schattner, M. (n.d.). The story. Gillie and Marc®.

U CAN Spray. (2017).