When Parisian artist JR won the Ted prize earlier this month, it was a formal recognition of the ways in which street art have been transforming neighborhoods.
The 25 year old covers entire buildings in slums from Rio to Nairobi in large format photos of inhabitants. In addition to challenging perceptions of those populations, the projects beautify the neighbourhoods, turning them into art pieces that attract tourist interest (and dollars).
Last year, international paint company Dulux launched a similar project called Let's Colour, which tasked locals with turning whole neighborhoods Technicolor. Neighbourhoods in India, Turkey, South Africa and Holland have been transformed into vivid cityscapes.
However in urban centres like New York, historic street art continues to be threatened by gentrification. The latest imperilled work is the landmark Five Pointz, in Queens, New York. Since 1993, owner Jerry Wolkoff has allowed graffiti artists to use the 200,000 square-foot factory space rent free. Artists have travelled from as far as Japan and Brazil to contribute to the more than 350 murals spanning the five-story, block long complex.
Longtime Five Pointz gallery curator and graffiti legend Jonathan Cohen, aka Meres One, wanted to turn the complex into a street art museum. But Wolkoff has announced plans for a $350 million project to redevelop the space into two 40-storey residential buildings.
Street art fans throughout the world have responded with petitions and pleas to have the site landmarked. "Somewhere down the line when street art is looked at as equal to other art forms, people are really gonna regret the fact that Five Pointz is gone. It is a museum, it's just never been called that," Cohen said. Wolkoff didn't return calls for comment.
Gabriel Schoenberg, CEO of Graffiti Tours New York, called Five Pointz one of the most significant street art establishments in the world. "It is important for all people, especially children, to see that the medium of graffiti can be used in beautifully creative and legal ways," he said.
What do you think? Is the presence of well-regarded street art enough to merit the preservation of a building? Or is street art by nature a transitory medium? And do you seek out street art when you're traveling? Weigh in on our Facebook page.