Marc Schiller, the founder of Wooster Collective and something of a godfather of the street art scene, was in an elegiac mood on a Saturday of nationwide protest:
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I've been thinking along similar lines, since I joined Fusion in the spring. One of the things that I was asked to do at Fusion was help to organize a street art festival, which would celebrate and amplify the voices of people who express themselves through striking interventions in the urban fabric. And the one thing I was determined not to do was to basically recreate Miami's Wynwood: a grouping of murals by internationally branded artists, most of whom have gallery representation, where tourists take photos of each other to show their Instagram friends how cool they are.
I have no problem with those artists, or that art — indeed I'm a huge fan of the likes of Os Gemeos, Swoon, and Maya Hayuk. Certainly I don't begrudge them their international fame and financial success; they deserve every penny, and have paid for themselves many times over in terms of the increase they've caused in Wynwood property values. But Schiller is right that along the way, something has been lost. Street art comes from tagging, from the need that young people have to express themselves. It's a way that the voiceless can be heard. Or, at least, it used to be. Increasingly, these days, it's more about trying to break into the art world to make money.
Saturday's mass action is proof that the streets still matter, that they're a crucial venue where young people's voices can be heard, and that passion and anger and creative righteousness have in no way disappeared over the years that the street-art world became increasingly corporate and commercialized. But for all that JR's portrait of Eric Garner's eyes led the New York march, what little "I can't breathe" graffiti there is seems to reside mainly on university campuses.
Street art has never really been about mass movements, of course. It's best at providing a voice for individuals, rather than millions. But it seems that insofar as street art is expressing any kind of anger at all, it's doing so around the current protests. Or else it's doing so far from America's shores, in places like Egypt. So here's my question for you: Where are the artists working today who will renew the faith that Marc Schiller used to have? Which cities still have pockets of brave artists claiming the streets as their own canvas, a place they can make an eloquent point without first asking permission? Who are Blu's heirs? They must be out there, somewhere.