The Street Art Museum Amsterdam (SAMA) was happy to participate in 24H Amsterdam West 2018, an event designed to encourage residents and tourists to discover the unique culture and character that each corner of the city has to offer. During last year’s event, SAMA provided two tours of its open-air street art collection, located throughout Amsterdam Nieuw-West to over 500 participants.
Street Art Museum Amsterdam defines itself as an open-source ecomuseum; our collection is not locked away in a white cube but lives on the streets, evolving continually with the communities in which the works are located. Being firmly grounded in community engagement and collaborative design, it is of utmost importance to SAMA to be able to respond to feedback and make sure we are sticking to the grassroots ethics we try to maintain.
Naturally, when one of last year’s participants, Felix Behr – a photographer, street art aficionado, biomedicine PhD, and Amsterdam West resident — reached out to share some of his photos of the event, we were eager to hear what else he had to say about the experience.
Find our conversation below (edited for clarity and conciseness):
SAMA: How did you hear about 24H West? What drew you to the Street Art Museum Amsterdam during your visit to Nieuw-West?
FB: Amsterdam West has been my home for a couple of years now, and some friends suggested to partake in the 24H West events as a way to rediscover our neighbourhood. I have a keen interest in graffiti and street art and had already incidentally stumbled across several murals in Nieuw West. So when we came across the SAMA tour in the 24H West programme, it was an easy choice.
SAMA: So you already had an interest in street art before taking the tour with SAMA. What is your relationship to graffiti and street art? What got you interested in the first place?
FB: Growing up in a small town, I initially had little exposure to street art. After high school, I lived in Melbourne and Berlin for some time, two cities with thriving and diverse street art scenes. That’s when I really got in touch with urban art, and became fascinated by it. Since then, local street art has become an almost integral part of travelling to other cities for me. I am particularly fascinated by the inherently unsanctioned, public, but also short-lived nature of street art and how it can transform public spaces.
SAMA: It definitely sounds like you know what you’re talking about, then. Do you feel like you learned anything new during the tour that you didn’t know before?
FB: Absolutely! Seeing a piece of street art is one thing, but you usually miss out on the story behind it, for example – how the artist chose the specific space, motif, and colours. For me, that was the most interesting part of the tour, learning about background of these artworks.
SAMA: Absolutely. You always get so much more out of an interaction with any kind of art when you know the context, the motivation, the story behind it. Glad we could do that for you! What do you think the most memorable thing was about the tour and the museum?
FB: Basically, seeing Nieuw West from a new perspective. It is arguably not the most picturesque part of Amsterdam, but at the same time, it’s home to a lot of diverse communities and cultural activities. And the tour really substantiated that. There are these stunning artworks by street artist from around the world in inconspicuous neighbourhoods, created with involvement of the local community.
SAMA: Yes! That’s one of our main goals – using street art to change perceptions of what Nieuw-West is as a community, and hopefully pushing people to think in new ways about how we can use public urban space. It’s so cool to hear that you experienced that. If you wanted to tell a friend about SAMA who wasn’t with you on the tour, how would you describe it?
FB: I guess I would describe it as discovering some hidden urban art gems in Amsterdam. The tour took us through parts of the city which are definitely off the beaten track – you wouldn’t normally see any tourists there. And yet, Anna, our guide, showed us some great artworks, that you might otherwise only stumble upon by accident.
SAMA: Yeah, there are a lot of little hidden pieces around the city, as well as the bigger ones that might just be a bit more unexpected. What was your impression of SAMA’s fit within the community in Amsterdam Nieuw-West?
FB: I was surprised to learn about the degree of involvement that local residents have during the creation of the artworks in SAMA’s collection. Even today, street art is sometimes still regarded more as an act of vandalism than art, so engagement with public can contribute a lot to the acceptance and appreciation of this artform. And SAMA really appears to emphasize this by involving the local community during the making of the artworks.
SAMA: Yes, absolutely, that’s super important to us. We’re always striving to be as inclusive of the community as possible, basically trying to think of each new work as being developed through a bottom-up process that adheres as much as possible to that aspect of graffiti’s original ethics. We don’t want to say “we’re the curators, we hold the knowledge, this is what we’re showing you.” We want to approach it from a place of “you live here – what’s important to you? How can we respond to that and reflect that?” – and hopefully, in one way or another, inspire some positive dialogue or change.
In a perfect world, what do you think a community-focused museum such as SAMA should do to work in collaboration with, or in support of, the community in which it is located?
FB: As for any art museum, I think the primary focus should lie on providing a space for the artists to express themselves, and on educating the public. A community-focused museum such as SAMA could combine these two points by stimulating and supporting local communities to use street art as a way to transform and shape their environments.
SAMA: Yes, we think so too! Felix, thanks so much for coming out last year, thanks for getting in touch, and taking the time out to answer our questions! It’s really important for us to get feedback like this to make sure we stay on track. We hope to see you again soon!
Street Art Museum Amsterdam will be participating in 24H Nieuw-West this year, with 2019’s event scheduled for September. The new format sounds exciting and we are looking forward to creating innovative experience fit for all.
In the meantime, we have other workshops and events in the works for the spring and summer. Stay tuned to our blog and our Instagram page to find out about upcoming events, or to learn more about street art, SAMA, and the artists in our collection. We hope to see you all again in September!