Street Art Tours 'Cheapening' Bushwick's Creative Scene, Some Say

By Meredith Hoffman on June 13, 2013 8:06am 

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 The Bushwick Collective is one of the hot spots for street art that has drawn an influx of visitors.
Street Art Bushwick Collective
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BUSHWICK — First comes the graffiti, then comes the...tourism.

A recent explosion of tour groups and tourism companies visiting Bushwick's street art hubs has commercialized the creative scene and undermined the purpose of public art, some locals say.

Street art gallery curator Jesse Henderson, who's lived in Bushwick the past five years, said he felt the burgeoning commercial tours were hurting both the artists and visitors to the area.

"I think it cheapens the art. Sure these pieces are going to bring a crowd but to spoon-feed it to people seems to take away from self exploration and adventure," said Henderson, a curator at Bushwick's Low Brow Artique and a writer for the graffiti and street art website 12oz. Prophet. "[Guides] are making money just for merely knowing where the paint is...If you're going to make money off the talent of others I think you should at least give back to the artist in some way."

And local filmmaker Cody Swanson, who said he'd spoken with friends about the influx of tour groups, claimed the organized tours were a sign the neighborhood was "slowly becoming less a place of artistic creativity and more a place of celebration of what it suposedly means to be creative."

"It's undeniable the neighborhood's changing, you have prices going up, the influx of new development and condos...and now the idea of graffiti being witnessed by organized tours as a commodified interest sort of means the art is over," he said. "It's putting the creativity in the past."

Bushwick musician Troy Odell, who bartends at Bodega Wine Bar surrounded by public paintings by the popular Bushwick Collective street art group near the Jefferson L train station, said he'd seen so many tour groups visiting recently that he felt the whole area had lost its "authenticity."

"Graffiti is edgy and authentic. You lose the authenticity when you have that many people looking for authenticity," said Odell.

Odell claimed that the whole Bushwick Collective area, legally organized and curated by longtime resident and businessman Joe Ficarola, was already different from his vision of graffiti as being illegal and on the fringes.

"Graffiti is guerilla," he said, claiming that when it became legal and organized it felt "contrived."

Ficarola didn't respond to repeated requests for comment.

But tour guide David Meade, who leads street art tours in WIlliamsburg and Bushwick, said the whole purpose of his growing tours was to be "authentic" and to share the public paintings with people who may never know they existed.

"Authenticity is at the crux of why I do this...it's because of my genuine love and appreciation of the medium and my desire to share it with people," said Meade, who noted that his company Street Art Walk focused on "street art," rather than "graffiti," tours, and that street art was supposed to be open to everyone and to beautify neighborhoods.

"By saying people shouldn't be allowed to come and look at beautiful art is almost an elitist view," he said, adding that his prices were reasonable ($20 per person) because he wanted the tour to be accessible to a wide array of visitors.

Meanwhile, another bartender at Bodega Wine Bar agreed with Odell that recently he had seen visitors "come through all the time" on tours or on their own to photograph the work, and he claimed the attention was definitely contributing to the neighborhood's gentrification.

But he said he didn't feel the influx of groups was negative.

"It doesn't bother me," said the bartender Jerrod Seifert, adding that he understood the appeal given the unique creative vibe in the neighborhood. "It's nice to have more people on the street."

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