After I have posted this I will post a visual tribute separately. And I know I am dreadfully behind in my postings so after the most recent events I will work backwards.
I am feeling pressured; I feel the need to do the Bushwick Collective justice. I am a words person; my mum and many of my close friends are picture people. I love some art though and art on the streets, of the streets, definitely so. It’s like the roots of hip hop, coming from somewhere real. A friend of a friend told us about the street art in Bushwick. We googled it and then we decided to go to see it.
Bushwick’s history is not glamorous, but like most of New York City, gentrification is making it prettier and safer. A Scot that we met on our way back from Bushwick (after taking the wrong train; everything happens for a reason), who has lived here since 1989 as an artist, told us that it used to be a very urban, very dangerous area. It has a very different feel to Manhattan when you walk the streets, especially because they are quite empty. But there is a feeling of something …
We had the privilege of meeting the organiser of the Collective, Joe. He asked us to allow ourselves to be interviewed by the crew interviewing him. He had seen our reactions as we turned the corner and saw the most amazing artwork on the wall. And I mean amazing. We had seen it on Google Images but it is nothing compared to the impact it exacts when you see it in real life. Having come so far to see the art, and having the responses we did, caught his attention.
In recent times, the Collective has come under fire from corporations wanting to cover the art with billboards. Joe is fighting the corporatisation of Bushwick. What struck me though was his urgency, a deep rooted urgency that comes from something more than politics. His fight came from deeper in the heart than politics (which has a tendency to be more superficial these days, unless rooted somewhere much deeper). And so it does …
The Bushwick Collective is a tribute and legacy to his mother. She died from cancer. Joe is born and bred Bushwick, and wanted to do something positive for the community in her name. The beautification of the streets is how.
And he is not without his own critics. A graffiti artist routinely covers the art with his tag, repeatedly if the artists fix their work. He is against the gentrification of his Bushwick neighbourhood because it has resulted in higher housing prices, which then pushes the old neighbourhood out. He has a point, but … the continuing of high crime and poverty are not necessarily the best answer for the neighbourhood either. And I would argue that corporatisation is more responsible for the gentrification of many New York neighbourhoods than, as amazing as it is, the Bushwick Collective street art.
It is a loaded issue. We all struggle with change, and none of us want to see the neighbourhoods we grew up in, the memories we cherish, unrecognisable in a modern world.
When it comes to art and change, what is acceptable and what isn’t. I think that art has a capacity to make us feel, to see, to think … and to be real. And when we are real, without our masks or our protective cloaks, it is harder to not feel compassion for fellow man, to not see our similarities more than our differences. In a raw state we are all the same.
I sit with Joe. The art is amazing. It beautifies the area. Any area. Think Newtown in Sydney.
I love the Martin Luther King Jr art on King Street. I wrote about it for my Masters. It is amazing. And now with the Aboriginal flag the message is contemporarily Australian. Art can enable change. I guess it comes down to all of us to ensure that corporatisation (including rising housing prices) does not compromise art which in turn does not eradicate the rights of all.
Four blocks for the Bushwick Collective is reasonable I think.
And the impact for youth in the area, something to hope for, dream about, see potential in, is priceless, and changes lives.