Can Art Save The High Street

Episode 400: Brushes and Bricks - Memories of a High Street…

can art save the high street blog cover with yellow abstract background
Can Art Save the High Street?

Remember those bustling Saturdays on the high street, the shared joy of finding a bargain, or the anticipation of trying on a new outfit? Those bygone moments seem increasingly distant, replaced by boarded-up shops and the convenience of online clicks. But is the decline of the high street inevitable and can art and creativity really save it?

This time I explore a different path for high streets around the world – one where art becomes the vibrant paintbrush, reimagining the high street as a canvas for community, experience, and possibility.

Celebrating 400 Posts and a New Direction…

This post marks a milestone – my 400th blog! With artificial intelligence (AI) on the rise and people busier than ever, I wondered about the future of blogs and the direction I should take with this site. Some might see blogs as outdated, but AI can't replicate humanity without it appearing fake or stereotyped – nor can it convey the "why" behind my art.

Blogs remain a powerful way to connect with a real audience and a way for artists to provide the narrative to their work and the thinking behind it. That’s something that is difficult to convey through a regular artist website, most are geared towards driving traffic to purchase routes and I think art, and artists deserve more than that, but maybe I’m just old school.

So, I'm embracing my humanity and focusing on what AI can't do. I'll be diving deeper into my retro-inspired work, providing a narrative alongside the art that documents the what, when, and why, rather than the previous 399 posts that have really focussed on sharing knowledge and experience.

The art world constantly changes but it also stays the same, once you gain experience it becomes easier to navigate and by easy, I mean well, it will still be character building but experience will give you the skills to get you through. I’ll still share knowledge but it won’t be the sole focus of this site, there are 399 posts that say what needs to be said that I’ve written already!

Maggie's Irish Pub Art Print by Mark Taylor, Irish pub with fish and chip food sign outside
Maggie's Irish Pub by Mark Taylor

Documenting Iconic Decades

Over the years, I've created hundreds of pieces depicting life in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. While I've built a collector base with landscapes and abstracts I haven't shared much about these "retro" works, which were often commissioned. I’ve painted icons and memories from the 80s since the 1980s, everything from early digital pre-Warhol period work right the way through to cover art.

From now on, expect a deeper dive into my process behind the art. Ultimately, I want to create a visual record of these three influential decades, a time of not just technological revolution, but also a period in time that witnessed a major shift in people’s attitudes towards everything from art to consumerism, even politics. I’m also getting to that particular point in my art career that making a stand or making a point with my work is an itch I need to scratch.

back to the 70s, 80s, 90s, cover image for blog by Mark Taylor retro artist

My Latest Series: High Street Contrasts

This post introduces my latest series, exploring the changing face of the high street. Throughout this series I juxtapose thriving businesses with those that have closed, reflecting the decline of these once-sacred spaces.

It's a reminder of what we've lost and a look at the complex factors at play. The future of brick-and-mortar stores is uncertain, with online giants like Amazon changing how we shop. We might even question if the high street's heyday was already fading in the 80s!

This series is a starting point for a conversation – what will become of the high street?

The Empty Storefronts: A Fading Community Hub

The British high street, once a bustling centre of life and commerce, now stands at a crossroads. This story echoes across the globe: what were once proud symbols of community and commerce are now boarded up, or filled with replacements that don't quite capture the same spirit.

In the UK especially, these replacements can be puzzling. Small towns with ageing populations might have seven Turkish barber shops, charity shops (thrift stores in the US), American candy stores, and nail salons. Who needs that many barbers when there's less hair than customers?

Of course, this decline isn't universal. Thriving high streets still exist in some parts of Europe and the US. But wherever decay sets in, for social, economic, or political reasons, a shadow falls over the community.

Here in the UK, the independent art supply store I relied on is gone. Now, a quick canvas for a commission requires online ordering or a long drive. This has a ripple effect – the high street used to be vital for local businesses to connect with each other. Now, it's a waiting game of unreliable deliveries, a system that doesn't care if your art supplies arrive broken.

Look, I know I might sound like someone yelling at clouds, but I truly wish we could find something that brings communities together again.

The exact start of the high streets decline is hard to pinpoint. Some high streets thrived longer than others. But for Britain, I suspect the 1980s marked a turning point. The decay crept in slowly, cracks appeared that we just didn't see at the time.

high street shops in disrepair art print by Mark Taylor
A High Street Heartbeat Fades by Mark Taylor

The Out of Towners…

Out of town shopping centres, although popular in the early to mid-1970s, began to sprawl into new urban areas. In the United Kingdom, new towns had been created to manage the population overspill from surrounding areas, old minefields were converted into housing estates, development corporations sprang up, and Milton Keynes, a new town way north of London had concrete cows installed in a field and everyone thought it was fun.

Despite being newly created with new people everywhere there was still a sense of old-small town community present, but this spirit hinged on having lots of new town benefits such as vibrant high streets, enough local facilities and police that policed, doctors that doctored, and schools that didn’t have to compete for students through a league table and that weren’t falling down because they used the wrong type of concrete. I kid you not, that’s what’s happening with schools here in Blighty.

New homes were built at pace, something that rarely happens in the modern day. High streets flourished from new footfall and they really did become hubs for the community to gather. Out of town shopping centres and malls were rapidly created, they offered a convenience and had everything in one place and they had exciting and exotic brands that could never be found in regular stores.

Malls, at least initially were never seen as an immediate threat to the high street. They were still bricks and mortar, and it was unlikely that small independent retailers would want to go head to toe with the big players and they often sold very different things. There was space for both.

The supermarkets and grocery stores were some of the first to transition completely to the out of town malls, they could carry much more stock and provide even more choice for customers in the bigger locations. I remember a couple of supermarkets moving out of town, but there were still smaller retailers who could fill the void, not everyone wanted to visit the mall and not everyone could travel easily but when the supermarkets began to leave the high street it would be another chip in the fabric.

These out of town centres were convenient but there was a reliance on either using public transport or travelling by car, the traditional local high street still served a purpose especially as car ownership in the UK during the 70s was still relatively low. So why do I say the 1980s had been pivotal in the decline of high streets at a time when high streets were still vibrant and booming?

Whenever I ask anyone this question they undoubtedly say that the internet doomed the high street, I’m not sure that’s entirely the case because we didn’t have the internet back in the 80s, although there’s little doubt that the internet would certainly accelerate  and seal the fate of the high streets decline in the future.

I think it all started with a combination of things. A perfect storm of innovation and technology coming together and the visionaries who embraced those early technologies and began to wonder how life changing it could be in the next decade and beyond. Little did they know just how much of a leap they were about to make.

derelict gas station art print by Mark Taylor
Out of Gas by Mark Taylor

Life before the internet…

Pre-web based systems were undoubtedly another gateway to the future decline of the high street. They made little to no real impact on local retail footfall at the time, but the seeds had been sown, maybe even inadvertently, I’m not sure anyone in the 1980s would have believed that the future high street would be accessed through a keyboard.

Those pre-web technologies such as bulletin boards (BBS) which sprang up in the early 1980s, using platforms like the Boston Computer Exchange (1982) facilitated online classifieds and rudimentary electronic shopping. They mainly focussed on used computers and tech-related products, which were still very specialist and very niche on the high street. Transactions often involved phone calls or mail orders for payment and delivery.

France's Minitel (1982) and the UK's Prestel (1979) were videotex systems accessed through TVs and dedicated terminals. They offered online banking, classifieds, and limited online shopping through text-based interfaces and proprietary protocols.

Both of these technologies were niche, but the target audience for these systems were more likely to eventually become the tech entrepreneurs that would take the seeds and push the technology even further by creating emerging web based systems. Mainly in the guise of CompuServe Electronic Mall (1985) and Freenet (1986). 

CompuServe was one of the first online shopping malls accessed through dial-up connections, offering product information and ordering from various vendors. Payment often involved pre-paid accounts or credit card orders over the phone. Encryption, forget it, it wasn’t unusual to cut out an order form from a magazine and send all of your credit card details through the traditional postal services.

Freenet was an early peer-to-peer network allowing users to share files and information, including software and digital art. Though not technically e-commerce, it laid the groundwork for decentralized online distribution models. This would become pivotal in the years ahead and solidified the foundations for the internet we know today.

There were other developments too, Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) was being used in the 1980s to exchange purchase orders and invoices electronically and it is this that would form the foundations for B2B e-commerce in later years.

By this time, online banking began to emerge and this allowed customers who had invested in these early technologies to do some very simple online tasks such as checking balances and in some instances they were even able to make rudimentary transfers, something that would later mature into the behemoths of banking systems that we see today.

There were still plenty of limitations and challenges that would stall the inevitable changes that were to come, dial-up internet was slow, internet connections were much less prevalent than they are today, and there were concerns around limited security especially when it came to data security and online payment fraud, problems that would exponentially grow over time as both the systems and the scammers matured into more complex beasts.

These were barriers for consumers and whilst those consumers were buying into the shiny new home computer and PC thing which was being heavily advertised, the public were less willing to engage with the online world because there was a cost barrier and to be honest, people were generally either playing video games or using productivity software. This was the golden age of Lotus 1-2-3, folks.

The majority of the mainstream consumer population had little to no idea of the online world and when they did catch a glimpse of it, that world was usually presented through clunky text based interfaces or depicted on glass screens in a control centre as the central focus of an action film. Remember, this was still very much rooted in the days of early IBM, DOS, and very much pre-Microsoft Windows. There were no user friendly interfaces, the interaction was often limited to typing on a keyboard.

Overall, online commerce in the 1980s was nascent and far from mainstream. But these early experiments and technological advancements laid the groundwork for the explosion of e-commerce that would happen in the following decades and I think that was the point that the high streets fate was finally signed, sealed, but still as yet to be delivered.

antique shop with antiques in shop window
High Street Treasures - Mark Taylor

Changing Communications and Marketing…

Television advertising in the 80s was on another level. In the decades since a lot has changed in the world of TV advertising, its format, how ads would be targeted, the consumer experience and there are huge differences not only between 80s and modern day production quality standards but also in the content that ads were able to display.

Advertising cigarettes was a huge source of ad-revenue in the 80s, I still remember the Marlboro ads, and in the UK, the John Player Special ads that were adorned on formula one racing cars. Tobacco advertising was banned in the UK and other territories over the following years and TV advertising shifted away from the typical stereotypes that had been used in the earlier years, but it still had a way to go to get where we are today.

In the 1980s, ads would typically run between 30 and 60 seconds, usually aired between scheduled programming blocks and limited in number per hour. A 30-minute program might have had ads at the start, halfway through and again pre-the next program, hour long programs would generally see advertising every 15-minutes here in the UK, in some countries ads were even more prominent.

There were limited channels and viewers had nowhere to hide. It wasn’t until the mid to late 80s that video recorders became much more mainstream and allowed consumers to record TV and fast forward through the ads. In short, advertisers and ad-executives had a captive audience, but as an advertiser you had little to no idea who those people were.

The ad-men/women of the 80s certainly had their challenges with this lack of trackability, but ads worked perhaps because they were largely unregulated in the same way as they are today. Content was genuinely, if not politically correctly, sticky. It resonated because the messages were far less subtle than they often are today and consumers were still largely discovering technology for the first time.

Catchy jingles, celebrity endorsements, no influencers or con-fluencers as I like to call the majority of them (oh my I do sound old and grumpy), and while I can say that I didn’t always agree with the portrayed stereotypes, advertisers were bold enough to push humour in ways that make todays ads sterile enough to avoid any possible litigation. TV is rarely brave in the modern day.

Maybe because we also had regional programming and entertaining TV that would be watched by millions of people in real time, I think I would be minded to say that those ads probably worked better than the hyper-targeted, highly focus group led ads that we see today, albeit some of those 80s ads would be best left in the 80s or completely forgotten.

A Perfect Storm and a Changing Tide…

Economic Restructuring… 

The 1980s also witnessed economic restructuring, leading to the decline of some traditional industries and increased competition from overseas goods. This impacted local economies and potentially reduced spending on non-essential items typically found on the high street. Unemployment was significantly higher than it had been and there had by then been a decline, particularly in rural England within industries that had for hundreds of years been the providers of a stable income for generations of the same families.

Coal mines had been shut down, the steel industry was in decline, it was a decade of either decadence and success or complete despair depending on what industry you worked in. An inequality that had existed before was being amplified across communities and this would eventually trickle into high streets up and down the country. Politics played a hand too, but that’s a complicated story for another time.

French Bakery art print by Mark Taylor
French Bread by Mark Taylor

Changing Consumer Preferences…

Beyond purely technological factors, the 1980s witnessed a shift in consumer preferences towards convenience, brand recognition, and value for money, which out-of-town shopping centres and early online retailers aimed to capitalise on. Advertising was becoming more powerful and the world was becoming exponentially smaller with the advent of mobile phones, early websites and a growing awareness about how the online world would provide the future of flying cars that we had been promised in the 1950s and 60s.

People were ready to embrace change and by the mid-80s, were also being encouraged to buy into the world of increasingly more affordable technology. Home computing saw its barriers to entry removed with the introduction of cheap 8-bit home microcomputers, and the rapid pace of technical innovation began to get people excited for the future.

I often wonder how many of those people, me included, figured that technology would eventually have such an impact on everyone’s lives. The target audience at the time were mostly living in the here and now, and many of them were wearing Swatch watches and gaudy colours from United Colors of Benneton. Looking back, the 80s were very much all about living in the now.

It's important to note that all of these these factors intertwined, The convenience of out-of-town centres was partly enabled by improved transportation infrastructure, itself a product of technological advancement. The rise of TV advertising and direct marketing relied on technological developments in communication and changing consumer preferences were likely influenced by factors like economic restructuring and the overall cultural shift towards mass consumption led by the brands and the marketing teams.

The 80s was the real birthplace for mass consumerism, even I bought into it when I got my first Filofax which I carried around but didn’t have either the responsibility or the social life to fill in. One year later, that Filofax still had no entries, but it was a free gift with a bottle of Drakkar Noir, an 80s aftershave that I still wear to this day.

As I said earlier, it was a combination of things that scuppered our Saturday afternoons bumbling around the local shops. It was a perfect storm and a hive mind of innovation that finally sealed the high streets eventual fate, but there is little doubt, that while the fast pace of technological change in the 1980s wasn't the sole culprit, it was undeniably a contributing factor in its decline.

What we lost…

Beyond the economic impact, the decline of the high street has woven itself into the fabric of social loss. Independent shops and businesses, still to a large extent where they still exist are the lifeblood of many communities but where they have been forced to close, the closures also shuttered access to the personalised services and unique products, and tactile buying experiences that they offered. Much of the high street of the past was broadly, all about the experience and in part, the human connections that could be made.

Retail was a by-product of social interactions, as the decade matured consumerism began to reach fever pitch. You could literally rock up on a street corner and sell toilet tissue from a suitcase and people would buy into it and then it all crashed in 87.

flower shop art print shop frontage by Mark Taylor
The Florist by Mark Taylor

The Future High Street…

It's not all bad news for high streets, many communities are fighting back, championing local businesses, hosting vibrant markets and many are really pushing the arts and crafts movement. It’s not unusual to see communities working with local authorities and landlords to transform vacant spaces into community hubs. Innovative retailers are blending online and offline experiences, offering click-and-collect services and personalised in-store consultations, so what about the future?

For those of us who might be looking at the past through rose tinted glasses and holding out for a return of the high street as it was, I think we have to face the inevitable that we are unlikely to ever see that type of high street ever again. That’s probably not such a bad thing, the high street has had a history of change for hundreds of years.

There’s also a question as to whether High Streets are worth saving, I believe they are, they remain critical to local economies and provide employment opportunities without which economies would stagnate and decline even further.

How we go about saving them is a bigger question, especially during times when finances are stretched and you need more money to buy less.  High streets have become much more complex in how they’re made up too. Multiple landlords, much more stringent regulation, less footfall, in some cases perhaps because they’re also much less accessible than before, and sprawling urban areas mean that high streets are further away from where people live.

The high street’s decline is a complicated issue with no easy answers, but there are pockets of hope from centres that have been entirely reimagined, and where communities and planners have been thinking outside of the proverbial box.

The Reinvention of the High Street…

The narrative of decline is different the world over. In Europe, many high streets have continued to thrive, albeit in a reimagined way and mostly due to the strong social safety nets and cultural significance of public spaces which afford some protection. The problem for most regular high streets is that they don’t have easy access to a Roman Coliseum to attract the crowds, most high streets are no longer the destination, they’ve become much more passive and rely on passing trade.

In Asia, there is a very mixed story of booming economies in major centres leading to continued growth and development, but there are also stories that mirror the plight of declining high streets elsewhere. In the US, some high streets and malls have been finding success in mixed-use developments combining entertainment, retail, offices and housing, bringing communities back into the areas that have previously been in decline.

Mixed use spaces that offer this kind of integration alongside experience driven retail with a community focus further highlights the need for traditional high street’s to adapt. They demonstrate how high streets and public spaces can once again thrive, but it requires planning and finance and effort to make it happen.

Enhancing Public Spaces…

Perhaps the answer is that the high street has gone and its replacement could be born out of any public space. Does the high street need to be as linear as it once was with rows of streets filled with shops and restaurants, or could it be reimagined completely and be placed right on everyone’s doorstep?

That’s a question that many previously declining areas have faced and answered, and they’ve seen huge transformations not just within the local economies, but within the community too with many also seeing dramatic reductions in crime rates. Art has played a massive role in many of the most successful projects and with fewer local authorities being in a position to continue funding arts programs and projects, it might just be up to the art community to step up and help put some of these wrongs to right.

  • Murals in East New York, Brooklyn: A 2012 study by the University of Pennsylvania found that murals painted in East New York were associated with a 27% decrease in shootings compared to nearby areas without murals. The study suggests that the murals fostered community pride and ownership, leading residents to be more vigilant and report crime.
  • Creative Time in Staten Island: The "Art of Resilience" project in Staten Island, New York, used temporary art installations to engage residents in the post-Hurricane Sandy recovery process. The project is credited with reducing crime by creating a sense of community and purpose.
  • GraffitiGardens in Chicago: This initiative reclaims abandoned lots in Chicago by turning them into vibrant community gardens adorned with street art. The program has been shown to reduce crime by deterring vandalism and creating a more positive atmosphere.

    Balboa Park, San Diego: The revitalisation of Balboa Park in San Diego, including art installations and cultural events, has been credited with attracting tourists and businesses, generating billions of dollars for the local economy.

  • Cultural District in Cleveland, Ohio: The creation of a cultural district in Cleveland, Ohio, featuring art galleries, museums, and performance spaces, has led to increased property values, job creation, and tourism revenue.
  • Public Art in Chattanooga, Tennessee: The installation of public art in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has been credited with attracting businesses and tourists, and contributing to the city's economic revitalisation.

While these are positive examples, the impact of art on crime and the economy is probably more complex than this. It’s not always quantifiable and other factors such as economic development initiatives and changes in the local population over time, can all play a role.

There are also those who consider community art projects leading to inevitable gentrification of areas pushing property prices up and pushing out those on a low income, further widening the gap between rich and poor. I think this is why it’s so critical for planners to develop strategies with the community and local businesses rather than planning from a distance which often means that communities feel fewer of the benefits.

old newsagent shop by Mark Taylor
Old News by Mark Taylor

How should we enhance a public space…

  • Murals and street art have transformed public spaces and there are plenty of great examples that can be found on Google’s Arts & Culture.

Public Installations: Sculptural installations, interactive artworks, and temporary exhibits can spark curiosity, generate conversation, and create unique destinations within the high street. Think Antony Gormley's "Another Place" on Crosby Beach or Yoko Ono's "Imagine Peace Tower" in Iceland.

Light Installations: Illuminating buildings, streets, and squares with creative lighting design can create a magical atmosphere, attract visitors after dark, and highlight architectural features. For example, the annual Lumiere festival in Durham transforms the city into a wonderland of light. My nearest Cathedral, Lichfield in Staffordshire, UK, is completely illuminated over the Christmas period, attracting thousands of visitors each year. You can see it lit up right here.

What about the empty spaces on the high street and in other public spaces?

The complexity of todays high street often makes projects more difficult to manage. Local controls, planning and zoning permissions, and multiple stakeholders in properties becomes a bureaucratic nightmare, but once barriers are removed and communities begin to engage with local businesses, authorities and landlords, the examples earlier demonstrate how community projects can have a huge impact in reviving the social fabric that has been lost in time.

closed down tea rooms art print by Mark Taylor
The Tea Rooms by Mark Taylor

Communities need a nudge…

One of the best news stories from the UK has been from the Nudge Community which you can find out more about right here:

The Nudge community believe that the small things are important, the high street isn’t just about buildings, it’s about people and making connections. Nudge aim to bring lasting change in surprising and entertaining ways to build a strong local community and a strong local economy.

Their mantra is to nudge local people and businesses to be brave, creative and resilient and healthy, supporting themselves and their community. Empty buildings in private ownership have caused long term problems along Union Street for decades.

An important part of changing the street is making sure some buildings are owned by the community. This means they can use these buildings to create a street that meets the needs of local people and more of the economic impact from changes they make stays in the community.


There are plenty of other examples of local communities taking a lead on high street recovery efforts, pop up art galleries and studios that showcase the work of local artists. Storefront for Art in New York have done this successfully which demonstrates that even the worlds biggest and boldest cities haven’t seen some decline, but whenever they have shown signs of decay there have been projects set up to turn fortunes and communities around.

There are also examples of community art workshops, with collaborations from local artists engaging directly with those who might just buy into their work and we have seen great examples especially since that horrible period we all experienced during 2020 and 2021. Artist-led regeneration projects that empower local artists to lead the transformation of neglected areas through creative interventions, promoting both community participation and placemaking. Projects like "Art Block" in Baltimore and "Creative Time" in New York exemplify this approach.

Building Community Adhesion…

Of course it’s one thing shouting loudly that we all want change, it’s an entirely different story when it comes to actually getting people to buy into the concept of actually doing something about it. Sure we can look to governments for answers, but I think recent and not so recent experience of political interventions have demonstrated better than anything else that community adhesion is difficult, mostly, politicians can’t even agree with each other.

There has to be a combination of intent, willingness, and leadership before you stand any chance of uniting communities, I’m not convinced that with a few global exceptions, we would necessarily find those qualities in modern day politics. I think, if we want communities and high streets to thrive then the very people who are shouting need to step up,  no matter how little they contribute, as long as they contribute something.

There are plenty of examples here too.

  • Community Murals: Involve residents in creating murals that reflect their stories, values, and aspirations, fostering a sense of shared identity and pride in the community. Projects like "East Belfast Arts Project" and "The Mosaic Mural Project" in Philadelphia stand as testaments to this power.
  • Participatory Art Installations: Create interactive installations that encourage collaboration and participation, bringing people together in a shared creative experience. Think Candy Chang's "Before I Die" walls or Yoko Ono's "Wish Tree."
  • Arts Festivals and Events: Organise regular art festivals, street performances, and creative events within the high street, attracting visitors, showcasing local talent, and injecting vibrancy into the space. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Notting Hill Carnival are prime examples.

Boosting the economy…

Sometimes it’s problematic to quantify how some of these more creative interventions contribute to the local economy, but when I walked through my local town centre’s craft market last year the local adjoining shops were definitely busier than on any other day, car parks were full and there were clearly people attending who had travelled into the region.

Art tourism attracts visitors, Liverpool’s Tate Gallery is a semi-regular haunt of mine, it’s little over an hour away and I always make time to walk through the local community to enjoy coffee at an independent coffee shop whenever I make the visit.

closed down pizza restaurant art print by Mark Taylor
The Last Slice by Mark Taylor

If communities want artists to engage, the best way in my own experience is to make affordable studio space available, host markets that promote the local arts scene rather than importing art from other regions, and it’s vital that businesses collaborate with artists and both parties remember that collaborations are two way relationships.

One area where I have seen plenty of innovation around collaboration is where local retailers have incorporated local artists work into window and internal displays. They’ve also continued the theme by using a collaboration of the same local artists to create the graphic design and branding elements and the best examples of this have elevated the consumer experience and provided a very unique look and feel to the business.

The Maker Space…

The barriers to becoming a professional artist and making a living wage from your creativity are many and varied. It’s entirely possible to create art out of anything and someone somewhere will find value in that work, but if you want to express your creativity using equipment that you might not as yet be able to afford, becoming an artist is very much a chicken and egg paradox.

This is where community led maker spaces have become critical to the success of local creative sectors. Their unique combination of resources, community, and innovation can be powerful tools for infusing new life into stagnant local economies.

By providing affordable workspaces and access to equipment, Maker Spaces offer access to tools, machinery, increasingly 3D printer farms, and other technologies that aspiring creatives and entrepreneurs might not otherwise be able to afford.

Maker spaces are excellent at encouraging a culture of innovation and collaboration. The community led environment brings together creatives of all disciplines and skills and they do tend to become hubs of shared expertise with plenty of mentors and peers willing to share their skills. One example I looked at last year also had members of the local business community sharing their business development knowledge with each other and those businesses would then collaborate with local makers to create bespoke local arts and crafts which were then sold exclusively in the community.

Maker Spaces also tend to be hotbeds of prototyping and product development, if something can be designed to fill a local need quickly, it’s far quicker to cut out the logistical headaches and supply chain issues by keeping everything confined to the local area wherever it’s possible and that links perfectly to the green agenda which can in itself often lead to grants opportunities.

Developing Local Skills and Industries…

The most successful Maker spaces can also develop tomorrows local workforce. Offering workshops and training programs, Maker spaces can provide training in various technical skills, including digital fabrication, welding, woodworking, and electronics, creating a more skilled workforce and attracting new industries.

They can promote local manufacturing and production by facilitating small-scale production and encouraging the use of local materials, contributing to a more resilient and self-sufficient and critically, a more sustainable local economy.

They’re also great for emerging technologies and industries. Maker spaces can act as incubators for new technologies, such as 3D printing and robotics, attracting investment and fostering the growth of future-oriented industries.

young bored boy selling rock and crab lines at the seaside
A Stick of Blackpool Rock by Mark Taylor

Stimulating Local Commerce…

  • Creating new retail opportunities: Maker spaces can host markets and events showcasing locally made products, attracting customers and generating income for makers and artisans.
  • Encouraging collaboration between makers and local businesses: Partnerships between makers and established businesses can lead to innovative products, unique retail experiences, and increased foot traffic in local shops.
  • Boosting tourism and economic diversification: Maker spaces can become tourist destinations, attracting visitors interested in unique products, workshops, and demonstrations, diversifying the local economy beyond traditional industries.

Building Community and Social Capital…

Personally, I can’t think of a downside to a Maker space so long as you can ensure bold leadership, a willingness and intent to engage with the wider community, and an ambition to work with the entire community. If you are setting a maker space up, you also need someone to sell the vision to the local community and perhaps just as importantly, to local businesses and education providers. They are all-encompassing, the best will have partnerships and a thousand moving parts in the background and they will have landed the right messages with the community, they will have also done the outreach work and fostered champions to spread the word.

Maker spaces foster a sense of community by offering a space for people to connect, learn, and create together, encouraging collaboration and social interaction. That means that you will want to engage with local government and you will need to onboard local education providers because there is a real opportunity here to promote further education and STEAM learning, vitally important for tomorrows economy.

Engaging young people in the maker experience can spark an interest in science, technology, engineering and arts, the exact roles that build the foundations of any economy. Young people need to be encouraged so that they can be better prepared for the needs of future employment markets, particularly where people already in skilled roles and heading rapidly towards retirement haven’t been able to pass on knowledge and skills because of skills shortfalls. I call it community succession planning, something that I think even globally, we haven’t always been great at doing.

If you land this correctly, a vibrant maker ecosystem can attract skilled individuals and entrepreneurs, contributing to a more dynamic and diverse local population. There are some caveats, mainly around how effective the leadership is, ideally that should be someone with a modicum of business nous and experience in the creative sector.

The rest is purely down to ensuring that folks are committed to making the project work, and local business stepping up and engaging. All of this might sound like an impossible ask in some communities but where Maker Spaces have worked well it has usually been in areas that have been forgotten about for years.

Further Resources:

Until Next Time…

Fixing the high street is complex and it needs a coalition of the willing to make the changes needed and drive local projects forward. Can we rely on cash-strapped governments and local authorities to resolve any of this, I’m not sure we can despite how confident I think we can all be that a thriving community heartbeat contributes positively to local and national economies. To some extent it should be front and centre of central/federal/state/local, government policy but apparently, that’s not where we’re at in many places.

But as creatives, if there are ways that we can collectively find to encourage more people to participate in the sector then I think, in the name of art we should probably do something to at least start the conversation.

Of course there will be pockets of the population who have become disengaged with the concept of community, that’s why strong leadership and a solid sales pitch are essential. The walls of apathy need to be broken down and I suspect, this is going to be a long slow process until someone shouts hey, this high street and community thing might just be a great idea! 

There is a question as to why this should fall to creatives, I think the answer might just be that these kind of problems often need a creative answer and besides, widening participation and appreciation of the arts can’t really be a bad thing can it?

Where to buy Mark’s work…

You can purchase Mark’s work through Fine Art America or his Pixels site here:   You can also purchase prints and originals directly. You can view Mark’s portfolio website and see a small selection of his works at

All artwork and blog posts are copyright Mark Taylor and must not be reused without written permission and appropriate licencing.


Popular Posts