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Bushwick Arts Group Wants to Prevent Paid Ads from Overtaking Murals

By Serena Dai | July 2, 2015 5:09pm | Updated on July 5, 2015 8:33pm
  "They're crushing the whole spirit of this community," said Bushwick Collective's Joe Ficalora.
Bushwick Collective Murals
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BUSHWICK — The proliferation of ads covering up murals in Bushwick has the man who leads a local arts collective spearheading an effort to create protections for street art, he said.

Joe Ficalora launched the Bushwick Collective several years ago, bringing local and international artists to paint murals on unsavory-looking buildings.

But recently, ads have popped up over several murals, Bushwick Daily reported — a trend that makes Ficalora worry that the "heart and soul" of the community will be lost to corporations.

"We're doing this for the community," Ficalora said. "It's a labor of love. ...They're taking it away from us. It's disgusting, it's petty, it's cheap."

On 247 Starr St., near the Jefferson L train stop, a billboard plastered with AT&T ads covers a mural where the "Bushwick Collective" signature can still be spotted in the corner.

Movie posters and more AT&T ads were recently put on the side of 427 Troutman St., covering the only work that a group of Russian artists did outside of their home country.

And Ficalora knows of at least two property owners with Bushwick Collective work on their walls who have been approached by advertising companies recently, with one offering $24,000 per year to lease wall space for five years.

A representative from the company, Seen Outdoor Media, told 14 Wyckoff Ave. building manager Frank Mattarella "we pay, they don't," when he noted that the collective's art was already on the wall, Mattarella said.

Advertisers taking advantage of the fact that people come to photograph the art is "disgusting," Ficalora added.

"They're crushing the whole spirit of this community," he said. "I'm hoping someone can ban them, or restrict them from a certain area."

Ficalora plans to reach out to local elected officials and start a petition to create protections for the murals. He's currently reaching out to locals who might be able to help with the effort and asks anyone with organizing expertise to contact him.

The property owner at 427 Troutman St., Putnam Rolling Ladder Company, was unavailable for comment. The owner of 247 Starr St. could not immediately be reached.

Seen Outdoor Media and Cannon Media, which put up some of the billboards, also did not respond to request for comment.

But some businesses saw putting ads up on their walls as a necessity for survival.

House of Yes, the aerial- and circus-arts group, recently leased the side of their building at 2 Wyckoff Ave. to Colossal Media, where there's now a large ad for Converse shoes.

Anya Sapozhnikova, a partner in House of Yes, declined to give specifics about the transaction but said the organization was offered enough to make it worth its while.

"We felt like, as much as we would love to have art everywhere, we're living in a capitalist society where we're all working artists," Sapozhnikova said. "It's a bummer. Unfortunately, we need money."

It's not a cut-and-dried issue for some local businesses, said Kip Michel, owner of sandwich restaurant Hi Hello at 247 Starr St., where one outside wall is now covered with a billboard.

He's not getting any cash from the ad and didn't know about it going up, but he understands why some people would go for it.

The revenue from a hosting a billboard could cut a tenant's rent in half, Michel said.

But locals need to think about the long-term sustainability of the neighborhood's culture — and not just a quick buck, he explained.

"The big concern is the lasting impact on the neighborhood," Michel said. "People shouldn't be making decisions so quickly."