Has street art “sold out and gentrified our cities”?

The entrance to Wynwood Walls in Miami, Florida. Photo by Osseous.
The entrance to Wynwood Walls in Miami, Florida. Photo by Osseous.

Earlier this week, the online street art community was abuzz about an article by Rafael Schacter for The Conversation, From dissident to decorative: why street art sold out and gentrified our cities. Between the time I left my apartment on Monday morning and when I arrived at work half an hour later, it seemed like a dozen of my friends had shared the article or reacted to it in some way.

Schacter has captured a feeling about street art and contemporary muralism, a nagging fear really, that seems to have been bubbling just beneath the surface for a while now. Basically, Schacter argues that street art isn’t rebellious anymore. Rather, that it’s most notable form is as a tool used by corporations to spur gentrification. Agree or disagree, the article is a must-read.

Rather than go on my own rant responding to Schacter like I would usually do, I reached out to some of the biggest names in street art and muralism for their reactions. A few of them answered. The prompt was pretty open-ended, basically just to share some thoughts after reading the article. Here’s what Buff Monster, Living Walls’ Monica Campana, 1xRun’s Jesse Cory, Jeffrey Deitch, Libray Street Collective’s Matt Eaton, Tristan Eaton, John Fekner, Gaia, Ganzeer, Carlo McCormick, The Painted Desert Project’s Chip Thomas, Jessie Unterhalter, Vexta, and Wall Therapy’s Ian Wilson had to say (with emphasis added)…

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What and where are open walls?

Partial buffed Barry McGee mural at Bowery and Houston (the buff marks cover more red tags). Photo by Andrew Russeth.
Partially buffed Barry McGee mural at Bowery and Houston (the buff marks cover more red tags). Photo by Andrew Russeth.

UPDATE: Xavi Ballaz (known for Difusor and the Open Walls Conference in Barcelona) has responded to this post with some of the more positive advancements towards open walls, and suggests that the open walls movement does indeed need a manifesto.

A friend of mine recently used an interesting phrase: “the open walls movement.” I thought he was using the term as a synonym for “the street art festival circuit,” which upset me, because street art festivals do not have what I would call “open walls.” But really, my friend was commenting on a larger movement perceived to be spreading around the world to use public space differently (insomuch as walls on private property are public space). On the surface, he’s right. Street art festivals, grassroots muralism programs, free walls, curated alleyways and everything in between now exist in cities and small towns around the world.

Does that make a movement? I don’t know. Nobody is getting together to write a manifesto and participants’ aims and methods are diverse, but there is a disparate group of what I’ll call “open walls people” who share a new way of looking at walls and public space: Public walls are for the artists, murals enliven streets and communities, and there should be limited or no government regulation of murals, but advertising in public space should be heavily regulated or eliminated entirely. Simply put, “open walls people” believe in unrestricted art in (often odd) public spaces.

But how open are our walls today? Surfing the web, it sometimes feels like globe-trotting muralists can hop off a plane in any city, find a wall, and begin painting the next day, or that every small European city is covered in murals. That’s simply not true. Despite valiant and well-intentioned efforts, there’s a long way to go before we have anything approaching “open walls.”

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Community amongst excess in Wynwood

Inside of Wynwood Walls. Photo by Katie Wheeler.
Inside of Wynwood Walls. Photo by Katie Wheeler.

“Dude, those drips look so sick!”

That’s what I hear on my way to 2nd Ave in Wynwood. It is Saturday December 6th around 9pm, and this is the last big night during Art Basel. A group of guys are tagging this building and praising each other’s tags based on the quality of the drips. I am hungry, tired, and annoyed because it took an hour to get to Wynwood and another hour to park. Not to worry though, soon I’ll reach my destination: 2nd Ave with 23rd St, the heart of Wynwood. Soon at least one of my big problems, my hunger, would be taken care of by one of the 30+ food trucks parked nearby. I just had to navigate through a sea of people, cars, paint cans, beer cans, art tents, music speakers, police in horseback, and of course more people.

Oh dear Wynwood, you have once again left me feeling sad, hopeless, and discouraged. What is it that you’re doing? How did you let yourself get so bad?

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Ladies Run Basel with Women on the Walls

Maya Hayuk

This year Wywood Walls turned five and to mark the special occasion curator Jeffrey Deitch called on on the finest ladies in the field for Women on the Walls. International artists AikoMiss VanFafiMaya HayukLady PinkFaith47LakwenaKashinkSheryoOlekTooflyClaw MoneyJessie & Katey, Myla, and Shamsia Hassani all created murals or showed in the adjacent exhibition space. The participating artists have come from cities such as Cape Town, Paris, New York, and London. Part gallery part mural exhibition, the project acts as a history guide to the great presence of women muralists.

Miss Van

Women on the Walls is a dream come true and also a proverbial screw you to people who say that the reason women artists are often overshadowed in the media is due to a dearth in street art. That, to be blunt, is bullshit. Older artists and the younger generation they inspired came together in the Wynwood district of Miami this Art Basel to prove their stronghold in the public art community. The scope of media alone proves their mastery of the craft as spray paint, yarn, text, stencils, and free handed characters all co-mingle to form a variety that has something to please most tastes.


Not only is the perfect storm of artists curated in this year’s Wynwood Walls enough to be in awe of, additionally Martha Cooper has shared some breathtaking progress photos. As artfully as the walls are decorated, each image thoughtfully reveals the personas behind the iconography. Each picture displays the strength of these women, whether unveiling the sheer amount of effort behind a production to those who stand boldly in front of completed pieces. Cooper shows that these women are heroes, or warriors as Toofly depicts, taking on whatever challenges lay in their wake and simply killing it.


All photos by Martha Cooper

GO! STICKER at Wynwood Walls’ The GO! Shop


Z from Bomit has curated GO! STICKER, a show of sticker art by about 100 artists. The show opens later this month at The GO! Shop, a part of Wynwood Walls in Miami. At least by number of artists, the show is quite massive and maybe “organized” is a better word to describe Z’s role that “curated,” but it will include work by some world-class sticker artists like Os Gemeos, Invader, Skullphone, Pez, D*face, Baser, Aiko, Ader, and Shepard Fairey.

Stickers occupy a strange space in the graffiti and street art communities. For some, stickers are an essential part of their practice, maybe even the primary piece of it, but other reject stickers entirely and look down on them. Some spend time working on unique handmade stickers that act as markers of where they have been. Others print up tens of thousands of stickers with the same design and distribute them to fans worldwide. The fanbase for stickers also seems to be oddly separate from the fanbase for most street art and graffiti, kind of like the men and women who obsess over freight train graffiti. All of which is to say that I’m very glad Z has put this show together, but I’m also very curious and unsure of what the response will be. Sticker art is important and deserves to be highlighted, and Z is one of the best possible choices to put together such a show, so I hope he succeeds at making stickers appeal to more than just us sticker-heads.

GO! STICKER opens February 13th from 6-10pm and runs through February 28th at The GO! Shop in Wynwood, Miami.

Weekend link-o-rama


It’s the weekend…

Photo by Jade

Tony Goldman, founder of Wynwood Walls, dead of heart failure at age 68

Tony Goldman was a developer and preservationist acclaimed for revitalizing neighborhoods in Miami and New York. Long after South Beach was considered past its prime, Goldman Properties turned the sleepy, moth-ridden strip into one of the most glamorous destinations in the United States. He has also been accredited with endeavors to salvage Center City Philadelphia and SOHO in New York. But what does the death and life of a great American businessman have anything to do with street art? Because Goldman’s interest in street art and graffiti late in his illustrative career has spawned some of the most prestigious and contentious mural projects in the world. One of Tony’s more recent rejuvenation projects is the Wynwood Walls compound: a museum of murals flanked by two upscale restaurants, cordoned off from the street and protected by security. This lush oasis or mausoleum, depending on your perspective, has been the beachhead for Wynwood’s transformation into an arts district fueled by the feverish energy of Art Basel Miami. In an interview with the New York Times, Tony explained that he felt Wynwood had “an urban grit that was ready to be discovered and articulated.”

This quote is perfectly representative of Street Art’s slow growth into a movement that manages to simultaneously encompass the smallest illegal act to the colossal legal wall. While the story of the avant-garde getting over and becoming the establishment is an old cycle that is endlessly vilified and reenacted, Wynwood Walls, the infamous Houston Street Wall and Goldman Properties’ recent collaboration with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program are distinctly American approaches to mural making and Street Art. Tony Goldman not only recognized the potential in neighborhoods otherwise disregarded as blighted, but realized the exciting promise that sanctioned walls had for his properties.

Via the Miami New Times

Photo by Wallyg

La Pandilla

La Pandilla's mural for Wynwood Walls. Photo by Molinary

The talent of Puerto Rican duo, La Pandilla, is undeniable. They’ve received a lot of attention this past year, after turning heads at a few mural festivals including Living Walls Concepts, G40 Art Summit, and Wynwood Walls.

As previously voiced by one sarcastic reader, “Animals are sooooo hot right now”. But perhaps, La Pandilla’s technical ability stands out because we’re not distracted by the subject matter or overwhelmed by color. Their work lives in this Goldilocks zone of being intricate in detail and being conceptually simple which allows viewers to focus on the most important aspect of their work: the talent.

Wynwood mural in progress. Photo by Molinary.
Photo by La Pandilla
Wynwood Walls detail. Photo by Molinary.
Hippo Mano. Photo by La Pandilla.
Photo by Molinary

Photos by Molinary and La Pandilla

Weekend link-o-rama: Miami edition

Know Hope for Primary Flight and Living Walls in Miami

In case you’d like to be in Miami right now for Art Basel Miami and the associated craziness of the season, but you’re stuck at home like me, here’s a small segment of what we’re missing (focusing on indoor events because a lot of the murals are still in progress):

Photo by Ian Cox