First Words in Dalston invites people associated with Dalston CLR James Library to participate in and enjoy an art installation on the hoardings erected within Dalston Square, London. The art is made from the first sentences from publications in the library, selected and read (recorded) by locals who live and work in the area. The compilation of first sentences is hand painted on the hoardings and played over loudspeakers, initially at the east end of the square nearest the library.

What better way to connect the Library with the public and the public with the Library?

See how you can take part.


Covid-19 has locked down the country three times and looks set to be with us in for some time despite the roll out of a vaccine. Returning to ‘normal’ could be a long way off and it’s been recognised that this uncertainty is making many people anxious for their mental health, lose their sense of connection and feel isolated from their community.

In late 2020, artists Mike Abrahams and Francesca Giuliano approached the London Borough of Hackney to enquire about the opportunities for an art project collaboration. Their proposal was to make art that specifically responded to context i.e. the library as an anchor cultural institution at the heart of the community (though there is limited awareness in the locality of CLR James himself) and the challenging reality of living through a pandemic.

They were informed that a 76-week programme of recladding of the buildings around Dalston Square was starting in late November 2020 which provided a ‘blank canvas’ of almost 250 metres of hoarding in the square.

In conceiving this project, the artists’ ambition was to:

  • respond to the site, in particular the Dalston CLR James Library
  • increase appreciation and importance of a library’s place within its community
  • embrace Covid-19 regulations safely and flexibly as they change
  • be inclusive, participatory, local and accessible
  • be low-maintenance and robust
  • increase knowledge of C. L. R. James


The project consists of inviting:

  • librarians and staff at the library
  • library members and users
  • neighbours living/working around the library
  • family/descendants of CLR James
  • scholars of CLR James
  • local schools

to suggest the first full sentence from any publication (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, academic etc.) which will be used to make the visual and audio artwork.

The visual artwork will consist of first sentences hand painted by the artists onto the hoardings and the audio artwork, read by the contributors, will create a complementary soundscape.


Hoarding erected – mid December 2020
Collecting stakeholders’ first sentences – mid December 2020 onwards
Phase 1 – visual and audio artworks on the library end of the hoarding – February and March 2021
Phase 2 – visual artwork around the remainder of the hoarding – April and May 2021
Phase 3 – a series of occasional events by writers, poets and others – Summer – Autumn 2021 (dependent on receiving funding)


Hackney Libraries – hackney.gov.uk/librariestwitter.com/hackneylibs/

Supported by Hackney logo in GREEN