It all began with an extra bed to crash on.
In 2010, Amsterdam Street Art hosted Amsterdam’s first street art festival. Anna, founder of SAMA, on a whim volunteered for the multi-day event. At the time she was working a corporate job and the street art festival was a fun, edgy, and different way to spend the weekend. Her first task: pick up the street artist, El Pez, and take him to where he needed to stay from Amsterdam Centraal. When he arrived and they met, it soon became clear that it would be easier for him and his young family to stay with Anna in her apartment as it offered more space.
During the weekend of art and good cheer, Pez and Anna hit it off. When he left, the door was left open for him to return.
And for his friends as well?
Soon after, Anna began receiving calls from his street art pals. They were asking to stay with her and be shown Amsterdam and its walls, in exchange for creating her some art.
Through word of mouth at other festivals, Anna’s extra room became a hot commodity. And even better: the wide open walls in her neighborhood of Nieuw-West. Ready for tagging.
Who were these artists? The list includes Stinkfish, Bastardilla, Alaniz, Uriginal, and Exit Enter. The list goes on and will most likely continue.
Suddenly, Nieuw-West had its own art collection blossoming around the streets. The artists shared curiosity about the neighborhood and an urge to connect with its neighbors. While the artists of course wanted to grow their practice, the murals did not empower their own career so much as it empowered Nieuw-West. Stinkfish wrote of his experience, “Perhaps it was the second time I landed in Amsterdam, in June 2012, that I was able to observe Nieuw-West more carefully, walk consciously, paint a wall, share with people from the neighborhood, learn about their history, the history of their family-a world of displacement, of migrations… and later this story would become the street art museum project.”
Nieuw-West offers what the center of Amsterdam cannot: walls. The city is beloved for their scrunched up buildings, while in Nieuw-West, the apartment buildings are spaced out from one another which means more walls. Another fact about the Nieuw-West buildings is they themselves are as ephemeral as street art. When the apartments were constructed, it was known they would not last longer that fifty-some years. With that, there is a lot of freedom for expression on the buildings.
The SAMA collection is rooted in a place of love. A story that exemplifies is an early visit from Alaniz. Although anonymous, when Alaniz came he made a point to knock on doors and ask the residents what they wanted to see outside their windows. He sought how to make them happy, rather than seeking his own chance to express his artistic voice. What he gathered from them was a need to bring some more tranquility to their lives.
It took him one night to paint the work. When neighbors rose, they were greeted with a mountain top view– their “Mountain of Calm.” The work became quickly beloved by the neighborhood. When Anna would pass by with a tour, residents would call down from their balcony declaring it “their mountain! Their mountain view!”
All the artists that have painted in Nieuw-West have felt a special connection to Nieuw-West. Stinkfish wrote, “But beyond the postcard [of Amsterdam] is Nieuw-West and many other neighborhoods where life takes a difference speed, the rhythm of the traditions and customs that have migrated from different latitudes and now coexist between the parks and streets that mark the distances between the brick boxes in which some of us live nowadays.”
Another story of connection was during the creation of Bastardilla’s Memories. When she came to paint, she would have coffee with the local women in the apartment building she was to paint on. From them, she sourced inspiration of what to paint. She enjoyed her lovely mornings with them so wanted to give them something lovely in return.
This relationship between artists and collectors parallels Peggy Guggenheim. Yes, as in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, and yes, of the same family as the Guggenheim Museum in New York. She gave space to new and alternative artists of surrealist and abstract art movements. Similar to SAMA, it gave space to street artists in a time in was only beginning to receive serious "credibility" and recognition as an art form in the Netherlands. Both collections acted as starting points for artists, and the collections inspired and enriched visitors with the circulations of new ideas about art.
At SAMA, we do not shy away from the pride these murals have given our community and being a springboard for so many internationally recognized artists. Stinkfish brought boldness and defiance. Bastardilla made them sparkle and shine. The murals alone did not do this- it was the person to person connections the artists made with the community.