It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
To some, it’s an artistic expression and a cultural necessity that transforms public and private
spaces into art galleries for everyone.
For others, it’s wanton destruction of private property, a nuisance, and should be stopped.
As with any great debate, there’s considerable grey area that means neither side occupies the moral high ground.
So do we celebrate it or outlaw it?
Street Art a Cultural Touchstone
In Brooklyn, New York, there’s a long and rich history of creativity, independence, poverty and conflict. A borough of New York City that has seen its ups and downs, it is deeply embedded in the popular culture of North America. Who hasn’t heard and loved the Brooklyn accent?
Hasn’t believed in the stereotypical Brooklynite - tough, rugged, law-breaking, maybe a little violent.
This area of New York is now becoming known for embracing public art and bringing in hoards of tourists for a Street Art Walking Tour.
The colours, variety and creativity of the murals adorning Brooklyn’s buildings are astonishing.
Their value in creating this public art gallery for everyone to enjoy is to many indisputable.
The urban artists that are behind these large scale masterpieces are becoming well known for their artistic merit, and many are willing to overlook the illegalities that go along with their modes of artistic expression.
So does the value of the art outweigh the disruption it can cause for business and property owners?
Early Days of Street Art
Much of New York’s street art started out as tagging, where disenfranchised youth would design stylized tags that they would then spread around the city. These tags represented a counter culture, and taggers were expressing their frustration with a city that was leaving them behind.
Tags were treated as vandalism, and the taggers punished for defacing city or private property.
New York cracked down on these vigilantes.
Europe, however, began to embrace their artistic merit.
By the 1980s, graffiti began morphing into ‘street art’, and this new name drew new designers out of the woodwork to begin claiming their public pieces. Artists such as Blek Le Rat and Banksy became not quite household names, but their popularity was no doubt outstripping their vandal brethren.
Okay maybe it’s art, but who wants it?
By 2000, street art had gained more widespread acceptance in boroughs across New York, and even down to Florida. Controversy raged on, though, for even if the public embraced this new public art form, private property owners were less likely to just sit back and allow what was still legally vandalism to occur on their property.
And rightly so. After all, not all graffiti has the cultural and artistic cache of a Banksy original.
Where does that line get drawn? Do business owners retain the right to cover over what the public deems as artistic? What if that community doesn’t actually support the business where the “art” is displayed and the patrons of said business are deterred by what they see as serious property dereliction?
That IS art! Now Who Owns It?
If an artist takes the liberty of spraying your building with what becomes a sales-worthy masterpiece, who makes the sale? The building owner? The artist? The city?
In 2012, a Banksy mural in London was sold at auction for over $1 million to a private collector, removing it from the public art collection that street art was believed to naturally inhabit. Who made the money from that sale? If the artist decides to sell a piece into a private collection, is s/he within her/is rights?
As with all good controversies, no one is right or wrong, and each party has a decent argument.
One thing is for sure - if a city or private owner decides to knock down a decaying building to put up something new, there’s not much that the public can do to demand that these public art installations be saved.
So go see them before they are gone.
What are your thoughts?