Beyond Beck Road: a community arts and heritage event

Story Tangible Intangible
United Kingdom - England
Organization name
Open House Festival, London

Beyond Beck Road was a diverse and adventurous community arts event which took place in September 2022 as part of the Open House London Festival. Bringing together a neighbourhood of artists, residents, local businesses, filmmakers and young people, Beyond Beck Road celebrated the culture and vitality of the street and surrounding area while demonstrating the value of seeing heritage as a resource rather than an end goal. 

Beck Road is a rare survival in a changing city: an intact row of 55 Victorian terraced homes dating to 1890. While iconic of London’s East End, the street is also unique for its community of artists who have lived, worked, and exhibited here since the 1970s, squatting in derelict homes and saving them from demolition.   

For European Heritage Days 2022 and as part of London’s Open House Festival, the community of Beck Road came together to create a collaborative weekend-long celebration of local architecture, art, and residents. Artists opened their homes and studios for visitors to explore, and the street was transformed into both a gallery for local and resident artists, plus a site for arts and crafts workshops. An evening film screening under a railway arch featured a remarkable line-up of locally-made video art and short documentaries exploring a wide variety of themes.

Beyond Beck Road was a reminder of the richness of the European approach to heritage — of celebrating architecture and neighbourhoods not just for their aesthetics or rarity, but as a resource and platform for participation, learning, and creativity.

“Brilliant, welcoming, open!”

“Perfectly placed!”

“A terrific community event mixing professional & local art!”

“A really beautiful discovery!”

“Do it more frequently!”

Feedback from visitors, Beyond Beck Road Art event & exhibition in conjunction with Open House Festival London 2022

Beck Road is situated in the borough of Hackney in the East End of London. The street in its present form dates to the 1890s, with its 55 houses and residents first recorded on the 1901 census. This census reveals that varied artisans have always called the road home, including carvers, blacksmiths, and cabinetmakers. The street is instantly recognisable for its historic layout: an unbroken terrace of homes interrupted by a red-brick railway arch crossing the road at its middle. Once many of London’s working-class streets looked like Beck Road though today much of that built heritage has been lost.

Beck Road’s association with artists began in the 1970s. Poverty in the area was rising and several homes became abandoned and dilapidated. Creatives and artists squatted the decrepit homes and made studios to practice and exhibit their work. Gradually the road’s reputation grew and attracted the attention of a BBC documentary in the 1980s. The houses were ultimately saved from the threat of demolition through the combined efforts of community protests working in collaboration with the growing artists enclave.

Many artworks that have entered the public realm can be traced to Beck Road. The small street has launched significant careers such as that of renowned gallerist Maureen Paley who was a pioneer in bringing contemporary art from across Europe to the East End of London. Paley ran her first gallery from her Beck Road home between 1984 and 1993.

The community of Beck Road first used the Open House London Festival to celebrate their heritage in 2019. An open call was put out for artists to participate – 10 were expected, 49 answered the call. The first event focused on exploring the history of Beck Road, and included a display of the names and professions of the original residents from the 1901 census on each of the houses, to link the past to the present.

For Beyond Beck Road in 2022, local organisers set out to focus on the road and neighbourhood’s present community whilst highlighting the road’s significant and diverse heritage. Planning began early, involving local residents through Beck Road’s housing association and Diddy’s, a much-loved cafe and bar at the end of the street.

The 2022 event itself was a two-day multi-disciplinary celebration of art, heritage, and community.  Exhibitions of artwork came from local residents and the wider neighbourhood. As well as more established practitioners, curators used the opportunity to promote and develop the practice of local emerging artist voices. The centrepiece of the event was local artist Luke Deering’s work ‘Reclaiming the Commons’, an interactive meandering tabletop meadow winding down Beck Road for 60 metres. This work, and many of those on display for the event, reflected on how communal and open spaces can bring people together, in many ways echoing the design of the street. Visitors were also given the opportunity to explore artist’s homes and studios, continuing the tradition of Open Studios that have been run on the site since the 1980s.

Night, and the unique architecture of the street, provided the ideal surface for projecting films. The street was lit up by a light installation co-created between a local artist and the local community. The second day of the event included dedicated activities for children to enjoy the streetscape and participate in creating art. Young people could take part in a drum workshop and hear their participation turned into a sound installation by a local artist. Participatory activity between the local artists and visitors was key in bringing the event to life and highlighting that making art is as much a part of the experience of Beck Road as its tangible built heritage. At the same time, arts and crafts workshops used themes such as building and homes to reflect back the heritage of the street within arts activity, and also included introducing visitors to using sustainable eco-friendly Jesmonite in sculpture.

As part of being open and accessible to all, a special viewing of the events was also organised for staff and residents of St Joseph’s Hospice, a palliative care centre opposite Beck Road.

“As a dual British-European national resident and artist of the Beck Road community, it was a privilege to be involved with the organisation of the 2022 Open House exhibition, Beyond Beck Road. Facilitating a broad demographic of people to bring together a diverse spectrum of artworks upon a stage, was orchestrated through an occupied common space. The interactive artwork ‘With & Within’, exhibited inside my home and extending out through the windows and onto the pavement demonstrated a sculptural, performative and collaborative learning activity, inviting the street and its visitors to engage with and participate. My position within the installation, held outside, allowed me to engage with the public and present both a curatorial and arts educational role which positively stimulated a continuous flow of conversations”. Melina Michael: Lead curator & Resident artist


European Dimension

Beyond Beck Road was a dynamic example of an event that presented several key characteristics of the European Dimension of heritage to engage residents and local communities. We believe the event served as a case study for active participation and whole-street based events for European Heritage Days across the continent.

Beyond Beck Road demonstrated the value of heritage as a resource, rather than an end goal. While the street can be visited and appreciated for its architectural value and its rarity any day, the event enabled by Open House Festival brought to life the potential of the street to act as a gallery, exhibition, and workshop space, while making the most of its resident artist community. This vision meant that more than 5,000 visitors were able to enjoy art, creativity, and heritage, interlinked.

The event was also an example of active participation between visitors and the local community. Whether being given the opportunity to step inside an artist’s home or studio, or creating in a workshop, visitors were provided an immersive and memorable experience, participating in the art-making that make Beck Road special. 

Finally, the project demonstrated that European heritage is not always about the largest and grandest buildings, but about local communities coming together to present and share in the tangible and intangible heritage that matters most to them.