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First Human Graffiti Library

Artists, transport operators, police officers, public administrators, cultural practitioners, curators, policy makers, security consultants, as well as those who identified as ‘vandals’, offered book titles as part of the first ever Human Graffiti Library, event that took place at Central Saint Martins on the 15th December in London.

The event featured 25 ‘books’ that ‘readers’ took out for 15 minutes at a time, to learn about somebody else’s graffiti perspective, specialisms and experiences, aiming to find new and inclusive ways to promote dialogue and challenge prejudices about graffiti and street art.

The idea of the event was to remind us that human contact and listening to others can help build empathy. Respectful conversations can positively change people’s attitudes and behaviours towards and between members of communities. The only requirement of the Human Graffiti Library conversations was that ‘books’ were returned in the same condition found. ‘Librarians’ were on hand with red and yellow cards to ensure safe handling occurred. None were issued.

Participants engaged enthusiastically and many chose to continue their conversations after the specified reading slots. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Both living books and readers commented how enjoyable the event was and how it enabled them to access new knowledge.

The Human Graffiti Library event was created by the Design Against Crime team at Central Saint Martins, UAL as part of the Arts Humanities Research Council funded ‘Extending Empathy Network’ and linked to an EU FP7 funded Graffolution research initiative. Prof. Lorraine Gamman, one of the organisers of the event, said she was “impressed that some actors, usually in oppositional roles, not only had lively conversations but exchanged contact details and appear to have started new dialogues”.

Human Libraries have become a worldwide phenomenon since they began in 2000 in Denmark, and many have occurred in the UK, Europe, USA and international context, although this was the first focusing on the theme of graffiti.