As graffiti moves from eyesore to amenity, homeowners attempt to profit from it

Julian Phethean’s first canvas in London was a shed in his garden where he covered the walls with bold letters using spray paint. When he moved his art to the city streets in the 1980s, it was not welcomed – and he was even arrested several times.

“We had nowhere to practice,” he said. “It was just considered vandalism.”

These days, the paintings arrive at Mr. Phethean, better known as the muralist Mr. Cenz. Recent facades, which he shares with its large audienceincluded an abstract mural on a Tesla showroom and a portrait of Biggie Smallssponsored by Pepsi Max.

“I never imagined I could make a living in this business,” he said.

Owners eager to attract young professionals once erased rebellious scribbles. This was before graffiti moved from counterculture to the mainstream. Today, building owners are willing to pay for it.

From Berlin to London to Miami, the wider acceptance of graffiti has attracted developers looking to expand into trendy neighborhoods, businesses looking to locate in trendy neighborhoods, and brands looking for creative ways to promote their products.

But this attention to once-neglected neighborhoods has driven up rents, leaving artists, fans and local officials with a dilemma: What happens once the street art that brought its character becomes merchandise ?

Contemporary graffiti dates back to the protest expression of the 1960s and 1970s, when anyone with a can of spray paint could tag the sidewalks of Philadelphia and the subway cars of New York. In Soviet-era Berlin, protesters splashed across the western side of the wall while the eastern side remained empty – until it fell in 1989. opening vast new webs overnight.

THE the gallery world has taken notebut it was social media and the fame of artists like Banksy, Vhils And Lady Rose which propelled him to a wider audience. What followed was a movement that experts say has been replicated from Australia to Argentina, with street art adding to the cultural character of a neighborhood.

Take the example of Shoreditch, in east London: decades ago, developers considered it a dilapidated industrial area. Yet it was a sanctuary for artists which took advantage of cheap rents to build a creative enclave.

“What artists bring is a sense of buzz: newness, creativity, trends,” said Rosie Haslem, executive director of Streetsense United Kingdom, a consulting agency. “Hipsters attract more hipsters who have more money and can start paying higher prices.”

This buzz also attracted developers and businesses looking to capitalize on Shoreditch’s popularity. A former tea packing factory now houses a branch of the private members’ club Soho House. On the road lies Amazon’s largest headquarters In the region.

Spray painters are still adding political messages to east London’s mosaic of artworks. But they are nestled between more commercial interests: hand-painting campaigns sponsored by L’Oreal, Sky and Adidas, and street tours that treat art as a tourist attraction.

Many campaigns come from agencies that serve as intermediaries between artists and companies interested in their work.

“We were splashing around in the water and a wave came in,” said Lee Bofkin, co-founder of Global Street Art, a London advertising agency. In the decade since its founding, the company has grown to more than 30 employees and Adidas, Moncler and Valentino have rented its premises.

Developers are responsible for much of the approximately 300 mural splashes. Wynwood to Miami neighborhood. The windowless walls of the former garment district had long attracted graffiti artists, but one developer helped lead to the 2009 opening of the walls of Wynwoodan open-air gallery visited by three million people each year.

“We had to find a carrot to try to attract investment to the area,” said Manny Gonzalez, executive director of the Wynwood Business Improvement District. Street art, he said, was an illusion. “We knew we had to preserve the art.”

Five years ago, there were no office buildings in Wynwood. Now tenants understand Spotifythe accounting firm PWC and the venture capitalist Founders Fund. Sony Music rented offices there. And tech companies from San Francisco and New York are coming, Mr. Gonzalez said.

Those employees will need a place to live, and developers are betting they’ll stay local. At the forefront is Related Group, a developer that has built a “Market rate” cohabitation building with a rooftop swimming pool and a distinctive mural by artist El Mac. Last year, Related opened luxury condominiums and commissioned artists to add visual flair to its buildings.

“Every lobby, every hallway, common area, public space in the building has art in it,” said Patricia Hanna, art director at Related. “The philosophy is to continue what Wynwood is.”

For investors, supporting buildings in these neighborhoods pays off. In Shoreditch, renting prime workspace cost around $90 per square foot in the final quarter of 2023, according to CBRE, 112% more than in the same quarter of 2008. Rents in the City of London , the financial district, increased by 40% in 2023. the same period.

The asking price for office leases in Wynwood was around $80 per square foot in the fourth quarter of 2023, 83% higher than the Miami-Dade County average, according to Necklaces.

The eastern side of the Berlin Wall in East Friedrichshain now an open-air gallery, and the average rent in the area has doubled over the past 10 years, higher growth than in neighboring areas, according to Savills. Promoters have tried to bring this artistic buzz to other neighborhoods: A popular exhibitionThe Haus, was housed in a former bank by a developer, Pandion, who later replaced the old building with stylish condominiums. All sold.

A large exterior facade could cost six figures, said Charlotte Specht, co-founder of Studio Basa, a Berlin agency that has helped street artists collaborate with brands like Maybelline and Netflix. Campaign-hungry brands have a demographic in mind for their target customers: “They use Uber, they have an Apple Mac, they get their latte to go, they travel,” Ms. Specht said.

Street art has acted as “a powerful engine” to transform certain neighborhoods into economic and cultural centers, said Thomas Zabel, managing director of Savills Germany. “Everyone wants to live there. »

But authorities wonder how to regulate street art and whether its commercialization changes the identity of a neighborhood.

In Lisbon, a municipal body called the Urban Art Gallery presides over the new creations, resulting in a visual feast: street art is splashed on walkways and train stations, and authorities have pushed festivals and art tours of street in embellish the most difficult areas of the city. International students, digital nomads and foreign investors rushed in.

Researchers say Lisbon has successfully used this art to present itself as a hip destination. But its rebirth divides the less privileged of the city, who claim to have been kicked out of their homes.

In Wynwood, property owners promise to preserve the neighborhood’s artistic heritage. New buildings must have artwork on their facades and hand-painted advertisements are illegal.

But these regulations, some say, have led to fewer organic spaces for artists, who cannot make the most of sponsored opportunities. “Promoters become to some extent gatekeepers of what the public can see,” said Allison Freidin, co-founder of the Museum of Graffiti in Miami. “And you hope the developers make a good decision.”

A cost that is more difficult to quantify is the displacement of residents who can no longer afford to live there.

“It’s really seen as a success story: look at how art has transformed this desolate area from a wasteland into a beautiful, trendy, thriving area with restaurants and tourists,” said Rafael Schacter, an anthropologist at the University College London. In his view, art was complicit in the erasure of communities because they were not “the right kind of people.”

The residents pushed back. In Kreuzberg, a cultural haven near the old Berlin Wall, residents criticized the opening of a Google technology incubator, who eventually moved elsewhere. The artists have painted on their own murals to protest against gentrification and expressed concerns on replacing sponsored content with public art. In Los Angeles, graffiti artists risked trespassing charges for smearing themselves an abandoned luxury towerwhich stimulated curiosity about him.

Aware of the tensions, companies have created charities that their commercial projects help to finance. Some, like Global Street Art, paint murals in local neighborhoods. Others, like Basa Studio, say they want to help artists get paid fairly for their contributions.

But places like Shoreditch have already lost their edge as they have become mainstream, said Ms Haslem of Streetsense, the consultancy agency. “The risk in commodifying or commercializing some of this graffiti is that you end up disinfecting it,” she said.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Dean Stockton, who has painted for years under the name D*Face. He was disconcerted by the number of tourists on buses staring at him as he worked on a recent Wynwood mural with the words “I WANT TO QUIT.”

“If you want to dance with the devil,” he said, “make sure you get paid well.” »

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