Shoreditch is an area of London where, throughout its entire history, art and commerce have been inextricably bound. It is where the works of Shakespeare were performed before the founding of The Globe Theatre in 1599. Music halls that rivalled those of the West End thrived there in the 19th century. The name Shoreditch, writes Peter Ackroyd in his acclaimed London: The Biography, “derives from Soerditch, a ditch issuing into the Thames”. Then Ackroyd is a Clerkenwell man through and through, and so he would hit on that. In the 1980s the cultural significance of Shoreditch was redefined by artists such as Damien Hirst. It has always been an important part of London as a commercial and artistic centre. And it has always been cool.
Boxpark is the latest cool addition to Shoreditch. It’s an eco-friendly, pop-up mall made from shipping containers, which faces the private members club Shoreditch House. And it’s just around the corner from Brick Lane. What is interesting about it is that it taps into the very identity of Shoreditch as a commercial and artistic hub. At street level it’s a boutique retailer led by brands, not high street retail chains. On the upper level there are cafés run by small companies along with two charities, Amnesty International and Art Against Knives.
What makes Boxpark more than a trendy shopping mall is that it works to nurture the local community, and to promote the arts. The charity Art Against Knives was founded after the stabbing of a student from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design just around the corner from where Boxpark now stands. Amnesty International’s featured writer for December, in fact, was the Polari favourite Jonathan Kemp, author of London Triptych. He’s even got a shelf of his favourite books in the shop.
The management team provide support for all the units, and encourage the idea that its retailers should reach out to the community, employ local galleries, and use local resources.
So Boxpark is commercial, obviously, but it also reinforces the idea that commerce and community are not incompatible. The real political challenge of 2011 has been to address just that. In standing up to the cold face of capitalism, the practical alternative is not to tear it down but to make it pay attention to the community it is in, to have it treat people as people and not simply consumers.
Boxpark is boutique, so you need ready cash to shop there. That would only detract from the stated aims if you played the populist angle. Then, it would be all too easy to play the populist angle. It always sounds good. But what is the alternative? Tesco? Lidl? Primark? Let’s face it, what is commercially populist on the surface is usually a conglomerate that would be nowhere without cheap foreign labour. Someone always pays the price for populism. The corporate trick is hiding the victims, and to pass on the saving to the Western consumer.
Boxpark opened on December 3, 2011, the date of Polari Magazine’s third birthday. Its lease is for five years. It’s a superb place to support local businesses. With Amnesty and Art Against Knives you can support the work of local artists, as well as the work of charities who deal with inner city problems that impact everyone in the area.
Vist their website here: Boxpark