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Introduction: what is street art?

Street art is visual art that is located in public places. It is made to be seen by an audience outside of an art gallery setting and is often site-specific (made for a specific place).

The term street art encompasses a variety of mediums including LED lights, sculpture and yarn bombing (covering poles posts and street furniture with brightly coloured wool or yarn), but most street art takes the form of murals.

Penny Lane WonderWall

Penny Lane WonderWall 2010 & 2015

Ian Town and Ejecto

Penny Lane, Liverpool, Merseyside

The term street art may typically make us think of art that is created without official permission but, despite the origins of some forms of street art in graffiti, much street art is now often sanctioned or commissioned.

What is the difference between street art and graffiti?

Although many forms of street art developed from graffiti, the main difference between the two is the intention and the audience.

Graffiti is primarily a word-based art that emerged in inner-city neighbourhoods as a way for urban youth to express themselves and their presence. Graffiti tags (words, names and symbols) are a form of branding and a way of marking territory. This type of art is not necessarily designed to be understood or interacted with by a wide audience but is intended to be seen by other graffiti artists.

Street art, on the other hand, is made to connect with a wide audience putting across a message to them – or simply providing something beautiful for everyone to enjoy.

Escaping Convict at Reading Gaol

Escaping Convict at Reading Gaol 2021

Banksy (b.1974)

Forbury Road, Berkshire

There is an overlap between graffiti and street art, which is sometimes referred to as 'graffiti art'. This often combines words and images. Banksy could be described as a graffiti artist. His unsanctioned artworks of political and social commentary, created using stencils, have appeared on streets across the world.

Discussion: street art vs gallery art

Start by asking students to think of examples of street art they have seen. It may be helpful to research some local examples of street art before the lesson, or you could use examples from this resource.

Woman with Spray Can

Woman with Spray Can 2022


Royal Mews, Southend, Essex

Discuss the artworks as a class. Encourage students to consider how street art, and the experience of looking at it, differs from art displayed in a gallery.

These discussion prompts may be helpful:

  • Describe street art you have seen. (What did it look like, where was it, how big was it what medium was used to make it?)
  • Why do you think street artists make art for the streets? (What is the purpose of street art?)
  • How different is your experience of seeing art on the street from seeing art inside a building such as a museum or a gallery?

Explore street art on Art UK

Explore examples of street art on Art UK with your students.

  • Look at each section as a class or select individual artworks to discuss with your students.
  • You could task students with exploring a selection of artworks in small groups.
  • Suggested discussion prompts are included within each section.

Celebrating people

Street art often celebrates the achievements of people from local communities or wider society.

These might be people recognised for being outstanding in their fields such as athletes, actors, musicians or scientists. Or people who have helped communities or society through acts of bravery or by standing up for what is right.

The Black History Mural in Reading includes the figures of anti-abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King and musician Bob Marley.

Reading Black History Mural

Reading Black History Mural 1990

Patrick Dawkins (active 1990) and Wayne Edwards (active 1990) and Alan Howard (active 1990) and Kevin Taylor (active 1990)

Mill Lane, Reading, Berkshire

Not all murals celebrate famous people. Some celebrate ordinary people in the community. Artist Marina Capdevila created this mural with people who attend a dementia daycare centre. It depicts the centre attendees engaging in activities that they enjoy such as fishing, playing guitar and socialising with each other.

Community Mural

Community Mural 2021

Marina Capdevila

Church Walk, Basildon, Essex

Look at more street art that celebrates people. Select one or two artworks to discuss as a class. (You can see a bigger image and find out more about it on the artwork page.)

  • Describe the street art. Who is depicted? Is it someone well-known?
  • How does the artist show them? (Is it a straightforward portrait or does it include other clues about the person's life?)
  • Think about who you would celebrate in street art. How would you depict them?

Celebrating places

Sometimes street art is commissioned to celebrate places.

Artists might choose to focus on one aspect of the village, town or city such as its history, buildings, or residents. Or they might combine these to create a bigger picture of the place.

A Chesterfield Kaleidoscope

A Chesterfield Kaleidoscope 2002

George Large (b.1936)

Vicar Lane Shopping Centre

Look at street art murals that celebrate places in the carousel below. (You can see a bigger image and find out more about it on the artwork page.)

  • What can you see in the murals? What aspect of the place is being celebrated in each mural?
  • Are there any important-looking buildings or landmarks?
  • Can you see anything that might provide clues about the place? (Such as its history or its industry?)
  • Think about where you live. How would you celebrate it in a mural? What would you include?

Remembering events

Street art is also used to remember events. These might be events from the past, recent events or even ongoing events.

The National Covid Memorial Wall remembers the victims of the Covid-19 pandemic. Families and friends of those who died are invited to add an inscription to a heart on the wall in memory of their loved ones.

The National COVID Memorial Wall

The National COVID Memorial Wall 2021

COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice

Albert Embankment, Southwark

In Northern Ireland murals have been created to remind us of The Troubles and the effect these have had on communities. This mural depicts a young girl standing in front of a bomb-damaged building.

Death of Innocence

Death of Innocence 2000

Kevin Hasson (b.1958) and Tom Kelly (b.1959) and William Kelly (1948–2017)

Rossville Street and Westland Street, Derry, County Londonderry 

  • Why do you think the artist created this mural?
  • What would you think and feel if you saw it on the street?
  • Why do you think the artist has included the butterfly?

Not all events remembered in street art are sad. Celebratory events are also remembered. This mural shows football star Chloe Kelly's goal celebrations during the final of the UEFA Women's European Cup that resulted in an England victory.

  • Can you think of an event that you would remember or celebrate in a mural?

Chloe Kelly Goal Celebration

Chloe Kelly Goal Celebration 2022

John Bulley (b.1950)

Royal Mews, Southend, Essex

Changing minds

As street art exists in the public realm, its audience is much wider than people who see art in indoor spaces such as galleries, museums or private homes. This means it can be used as a powerful tool for putting across a message to lots of people.

'Great' Britain

'Great' Britain 2020

Natasha Pszenicki (b.1980)

Black Outdoor Art

Black Outdoor Art is a community art project that commissions Black creatives to produce designs for advertising billboards around themes of racism, equality and empowerment and the lived experience of Black people in the UK. Through the artworks, the project aims to inspire discussion, activism and change.

Decolonise Everything

Decolonise Everything 2020

Nadina Ali (b.1984)

Black Outdoor Art

American artist Jenny Holzer uses a range of media to create street art including LED lights, projections, fliers, signs, plaques and print stamps. Through these, she displays and circulates thought-provoking texts that relate to politics and society.


Truisms 1984

Jenny Holzer (b.1950)


  • What message would you put across using street art? (Are there any issues that you feel strongly about?)
  • How would you put your message across?
  • What media would you use?
  • Would you use text or images or a combination of both?

Making boring spaces beautiful

Imagine walking along a boring grey street and suddenly you see this!

Three Faces

Three Faces 2022

Aches (b.1992)

Clarence Road, Southend, Essex

Sometimes street art is simply about making an empty, boring space beautiful and creating artworks that everyone can enjoy. Big empty walls, the end of a row of houses, under bridges, underpasses and tunnels are all canvases for street artists. They let their imaginations run riot with spectacular imagery and colour and breathtaking technique.

The Upside Gallery Murals

The Upside Gallery Murals 2019/2020

Paintshop Studio

Central Gardens, Under the A338, Bournemouth, Dorset

Look at the street art murals in the carousel below.

  • Which one do you like best?
  • What is it you like about it?
  • What techniques has the artist used?
  • Can you think of any empty (or ugly) spaces near where you live that could be improved with a street art mural?
  • What image would you put there to make the boring space beautiful?

Activity (primary students): create a collaborative mural that celebrates your place

A Chesterfield Kaleidoscope

A Chesterfield Kaleidoscope 2002

George Large (b.1936)

Vicar Lane Shopping Centre

Celebrate your village, town or city (or school) with a mural created collaboratively as a class. This activity provides suggestions for a mural that can be created on paper or board and attached to a wall. 

You will need:

  • paper and crayons to plan your design
  • paint to paint your mural (e.g. acrylic or another type of liquid water-based paint)
  • large sheets of paper, card or board for your mural
  • scissors


1. Choose a location

An important aspect of street art is that it is made for a particular location so the first thing to decide is where your mural will be located.

  • Is there a school corridor or classroom wall where your mural could be? (Although not on the street, these are still public spaces.) Or is there an empty outside wall on your school grounds crying out for a mural?
  • You also need to decide how big and what its format will be (i.e. will it be long and thin or big and square?)

2. Get thinking!

Organise students into pairs or small groups and task each group with choosing an aspect of the town to celebrate.

This could be a place, a building, a person, an event or a local industry such as agriculture, textiles or pottery. Can you make any cross-curricular links with themes in history or geography that you have recently studied?

Harwich 'Mayflower' Project Murals

Harwich 'Mayflower' Project Murals 2015

unknown artist

George Street, Harwich, Essex

  • Students should discuss and note down ideas in their groups and make sketches that explain their ideas.
  • Ask students to share their ideas with the rest of the class.
  • Make sure there is a good range of ideas across the class to put into the design.

3. Plan your design.

Encourage students to think about how the different aspects of your place could be put together to create the mural.

It might help to make small sketches of the different things that will be part of the mural, cut these out and arrange them on a large piece of paper or on the floor. You can then move these around until you have a design that works.

4. Create your mural

Each student or group of students could either create their contribution to the mural separately ...

  • They should draw, paint or collage their contribution and cut this out.
  • These can then be added to a large sheet or sheets of paper according to your design, or attached directly to the wall.
  • If using a large sheet of paper to form the mural background, decorate this with sky, clouds, birds, streets and trees.

Or students could also draw or paint their design directly onto a large sheet of paper (or lots of sheets attached together). The paper can be attached to a wall and worked on, or students could work on the paper on the floor and the mural attached to the wall afterwards. It might help to map out the design first, according to your planning sketches, using a crayon.


An outdoor mural

If you are creating a mural for an outdoor space, paint your design onto a large sheet or sheets of plywood or MDF. Seal the board first with white emulsion paint and use either acrylic or liquid water-based paint to paint the design. When the mural is finished you will need to protect the paint with a weatherproof varnish. (Acrylic paints for outdoor use are also available.)

You could also think about making your mural from recycled materials. This mural is made from plastic lids, bottle tops and recycled paint on plywood.

The Parkland Mural

The Parkland Mural 2021

Cristina Staicu

Parkland Infant School, Brassey Avenue, Eastbourne, East Sussex

You might decide to paint your mural directly onto a wall. Map out your design using coloured chalk. Paint your mural using acrylic or a ready-mixed liquid paint. It might be a good idea for you to paint the large background areas (such as skies, landscape elements or background colours) with a roller and emulsion paint initially before your students paint their individual mural details on top.

Development idea: create a tile mural


140 SMILES 2000

Julia Gatrill (active 2000) and W. G. Grinter (active 2000)

High Street, Street, Somerset

Often murals are created using glazed tiles or mosaics. These make for durable, weatherproof surfaces. If you have access to a kiln, you could create a collaborative tile mural.

Task each student with creating a tile that represents an aspect of your village, town or city. Use our tile-making activity for ideas and instructions:

Activity (secondary students): street art commission challenge

Task students with developing a proposal in response to an imagined street art commission.

You could either select a location in your town, city or village for the students to plan their design for or ask them to choose a location in your local area for their artwork.


Encourage students to research examples of street art as inspiration before beginning the task. They could take photographs of street art and research street art online. They should gather photographs as source material and note down their thoughts and ideas.

This Curation pulls together a range of street art murals from Art UK:

Wall of Icons

Wall of Icons 2022


Diversity Dance Studio, Kings Road, Southend, Essex

They could also explore videos showing street artwork being created. This may help them in planning the logistics of their proposal. 

The task

A commission outline is provided below. Adapt this and tweak the language as necessary to match the ability of your students. You could also tailor the commission to a specific location in your area.

Street art commission

We want to fill the empty spaces of our streets with art! Proposals are invited for street art that celebrates our village/town/city. It can celebrate any aspect of our place – the people, the buildings, its community spirit, its events or its industries. The artwork can be figurative or abstract as long as it captures the spirit of our place.

It should be a 2D artwork and can be in any medium that is appropriate to the location (and will be durable enough to withstand the elements). Possible media could be paint, tiles, print or LED lights.

You will need to submit:

  1. Your proposed location.
    This should be an existing public-facing surface such as a wall or underpass. (Alternative surfaces could be billboards, bus shelters, pavements or even the side of a bus or train!) Photograph your location and include grid reference details if possible.
  2. Your design.
    This should be a drawing, painting or laser print that provides an accurate representation of what your street art will look like. Include notes relating to materials and the logistics of creating your street art project with your proposal (e.g. how you will create it, what type of equipment you might need, etc.)
  3. A mock-up image of your street art in place.
    This should be a photograph of your location edited using image editing tools to include your street art. Alternatively, it could be a drawing of your planned location with your street artwork in place.

Saint Enoch and Child

Saint Enoch and Child 2018


George Street / High Street, Glasgow

Submission review

Once students have created their proposals, ask them to present their projects to the rest of the class.

  • They should present their designs and talk through their ideas and plans.
  • They could also include their street art research.
  • Encourage the class to respond with thoughts, suggestions and questions.

Differentiation suggestions

For older or more able students, include more challenging instructions. Task them with creating a scaled drawing. This would provide cross-curricular links with mathematics. (It may not be possible to measure the surface of their proposed location, but they could estimate what it might be – or you could provide a size for them to work to.) You could also task them with researching and costing materials, estimating timescales – and even suggesting a fee!

Development idea: make it real!

One of the questions your students will probably ask is 'can we do this for real?' While it may not be feasible to paint a large-scale mural in your village, town or city (as well as the logistics of negotiating a site there are also health and safety considerations relating to students working at higher than ground level): you could consider alternative approaches to creating a version of their murals in a public location.

For example, many high streets have empty shops, with some councils covering windows with decorative vinyl designs to make the street look less desolate. Could you make a connection with a local council for a window murals project? Students could paint designs onto paper, card or fabric which can then be attached to the inside of shop windows. This would be a great way to extend the classroom into the high street and create a street art project to showcase your students' creativity! 

Alternatively, challenge students to design and paint a mural for your school. Is there an empty wall on your school grounds or within your school building (such as a corridor) that could be used?

Tweak this activity to invite students to think about and develop proposals for a mural that they can then create for this location. This may work better as a group project with students pooling ideas and working on the mural together.

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