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Developing world of street art: from festivals to mecca’s and cities

In my last article I talked about the (undefined) definition of the street art movement. But even though the movement is not clearly defined yet, since a decade or two, street art has gained popularity. This is probably because it is attractive and easy to interpret. On top of that, street art stands literally in your way. If you walk through any city, you will see stickers or stencils on the buildings you pass. But nowadays it is not agglomeration of individual street art pieces; in different sites around the world whole villages or neighbourhoods are painted all at once. So following up on the last article, these changes lead us to the question: where will this revolution of street art bring us? And where do we stand in this development as a museum?

The meeting of different styles and different artists in ‘festival like’ exchanges were the beginning of changes in the street art world. Kenor, an artist has painted for our collection recalls: “In the beginning in Barcelona, we met up on Fridays in this space where nobody would go to and have paella painting get-togethers.” Anna, director and founder of the Street Art Museum explains further: “Since I came on to study the scene in 2010, it was all about legal festivals supported by legal walls (and the lack of them) and gallery openings (selling canvases), as there were no money but passion. In 2013, the locals declared our Tales of the Nine project an Open Air or Street Art Museum”, which for majority was funded by municipality local resident initiative, housing corporations and private investment." The Tales of the Nine was a project in which for the first time in Amsterdam, more than twenty street art works and murals where painted close to each other (designed route) in a short amount of time (2 years) in a format of a Collection, supported by stories (intangible heritage) meant to be shared with a wider public. In order, to collectively understand the phenomenon spreading through our cities, open-source style.

Not just in Amsterdam, but in almost every bigger city around the globe, street art galleries or museums have now appeared. Some of them, like SAMA, show art outside in the open air, and some of them show inside exhibits that change regularly, some produce unlimited number of canvases, some fill the abandoned/neglected building with creative activities as well as exhibitions. Not only is the term ‘street art’ used, but also the term ‘Urban Art’, adopted within the gallery world. For example Galeria de Arte Urbana in Lisbon was founded in 2008, in a letter they explained there choice for the name: “we speak about “urban art” because it’s a wider term than graffiti or street art, to what concerns artistic intervention in public space.” To me personally, for this reason specifically, the concept is even harder comprehend than ‘street art’.

"Vast, solid, monolithic, vertical museums are probably buildings of the past. ... In the future, we will witness different expansions, even immaterial ones. ... Expanding the museum is an essential part of thinking the museum forward. ... Today and tomorrow changing the museum will not longer be just a matter of building; it will have to rethink what kind of space the museum can and should be. It can also be a digital space. ... We have to consider sharing, interconnectivity, and cultural participation: what does the viewer want and need? ... What is necessary in terms of new art disciplines and art practices? Can we continue to collect the way we did in the past? "

Chris Dercon, Director of Tate Modern, London

However the story of development goes on; the word Mecca – a place of worship! – appeared in order to indicate places within the scene where street art is really big. And now France is the first country to announce a Street Art City, in which 13 buildings are all covered with street art, with street artists invited from around the world to be involved. This city has a hotel in which every room is painted from top to bottom from the inside. At the same time, on the other side of the world, a whole village in Indonesia, Java was painted in rainbow colours as part of a governmental plan to revive the area. Check out Banksy's "street art mecca" hotel in Palestina! And we must not forget the pioneers of city painting, our local Amsterdammers Favela Painting majestic duo.

So in all these new and vibrant developments, the Street Art Museum Amsterdam is not trying to be the first, or the biggest or the greatest. The variety is so great, it would be silly. Just like one of our visitors pointed out, we embrace the idea that ‘creativity is not a competition’. We collect all of the production methods from biggest to smallest, rather than specific art styles or individual artists. The museum is based on the idea of starting and sharing knowledge. History of the movement and its consistencies and paradoxes. Explore the feeling of creating, living and parting with an artwork. Innovate in how to document and if possible expand the memory about the artwork and people living with it. We try to involve local people, to get them more connected with their neighbourhood and with each other.

In contrast to classic museums, all of our collection is in the open air, as you might know. There are a few reasons for this, first of all that it fits with the street art movement. And as artist John Baldessari mentions: “quite often site-specific work can only be done in public spaces”. Using the outside space, the art can be enjoyed by anyone. In portraying art in the outside world, one of the purposes is to ‘free the works of art, as well as the viewer from any fixed readings’. The museum is to start a dialogue, between people and the object. Imagine, what would you like to see on your wall? What is beauty for you? While mediating the new paintings outside, the museum asks the people living and working in the area for their opinion. The goal is that the art will be collectively supported and relevant. Rather than consuming art, the museum is a social place as well. In the book ‘Museum of the Future’ this concept of collectively owned museums is further examined.

After all, in the growing and rapidly transforming movement of street art, the Street Art Museum Amsterdam also goes into rather unexplored pathways. And we invite you to be part of it, and share your opinion on what art in the open space should be like!

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