North London's Cultural Guide

Why I launched Camden Open-air Gallery

22-year-old graduate Finn Brewster Doherty on his plan to reboot Camden's heart

Unlike almost everyone, I was actually raised on Camden High Street; my mum owned a restaurant called the Camden Brasserie, which was pretty popular in the 90s and noughties. I moved away for uni, but was always coming back, and hanging out in Camden.

I returned properly in 2019 after finishing my degree up in Manchester. As we all know, Camden High Street has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. For me it’s in a limbo period where it doesn’t quite know what it is. I’m 22, and when I say to my peers “let’s go out in Camden”, I get a resounding “no”, or “Camden’s dead”, as a response.

But I couldn’t disagree more: yes, Camden has become a tourist trap, but there is so much on offer, from venues and bars to good restaurants. Plus so much history. This project is a bit of a homage to Camden.

Finn Brewster Doherty
Finn Brewster Doherty. Photo: own

I found the area’s street art an escape during lockdown, and the idea just occurred to me: “Why don’t we paint the shutters?” It’s a great way to brighten up a place which was looking a little bit rundown, and also to support local artists who have had an incredibly tough time over the last few months.


Getting the first shutter was tough. I contacted my landlord and just had to keep pushing. But from there it has snowballed.

The response has been humbling, and we’ve now got most of the shutters on the high street, plus walls and buildings across Camden. This led to the development of the map which gives you a free-of-charge tour of Camden and the street art that makes it the place it is. As pieces go up we will add them to the map. For this collection we’re working with a theme of community.

Open-air Gallery map (or read it online)

The plan is now that we have numerous locations, ranging from the High Street to Chalk Farm Road, and the Market, to give Camden Town a fresh lick of Paint. Brighten it up, and get work up on locations that will be open 24 hours a day.

Once this is done we’ll have a launch event when Covid guidelines allow, in which we light it all up for the first time, working with business and locals to incorporate its many different entities. The aim is showcasing Camden Town to Londoners, domestic tourists as well as international ones.

The shutters are going to be our showstopper: we have an agreement with each building owner to light it up for two hours after they shut on a Thursday.

I’m self-funding at the minute and have just quit my job to give this as much as I possibly can. If it takes off, and people like what we are doing, then the plan is to do new curations every 3-4 months, focusing on showcasing local talent.

Camden Open Air Gallery
Start here. Photo: Stephen Emms

All excess paint is stored up and given to a shop called VIP Graffiti Paints in Tottenham: the owner Billy is an amazing guy and has helped me throughout the project. On weekends he donates it to kids wanting to learn how to use spray paint – and lets them work with walls and large pieces of wood to teach them how to show their work legally.

And after the launch? We, I just want to focus on making this a permanent attraction to Camden Town: getting work displayed on roads surrounding Camden High Street, doing much larger scale pieces, and experimenting with incorporating different types of art, sculpture and photography.

So watch this space – and any support, or advice, is welcome.

Follow @camdenoag on Instagram If you want to get involved or can help, or would simply like to know more or check out the map, head to the website here.

Main image: Camden Open-Air Gallery

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The award-winning print and online title Kentishtowner was founded in 2010 and is part of London Belongs To Me, a citywide network of travel guides for locals. For more info on what we write about and why, see our About section.