Corporate America is destroying Bushwick’s famed street murals by offering neighborhood building owners big bucks to cover up artists’ masterpieces with pictures of Coors cans and Sprite bottles, say local artists.
“They are greedy savages who are destroying something special and beautiful in the international art community,” said Joe Ficalora, who is the founder of the Bushwick Collective, the group of street artists that have painted dozens of elaborate murals in the blocks around the Jefferson and DeKalb L stops in recent years.
The al fresco artworks have turned the sleepy industrial area into a magnet for tourists, Ficalora says, and now advertisers are trying to cash in on their success.
“Now that I have attracted thousands of tour groups and children and there are people coming in left and right to see the murals, they are coming in to capitalize on that,” he said
Several building owners in the area say advertising agencies have offered them hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover artworks with painted advertisements or vinyl billboards.
The owner of a building on the corner of Troutman Street and Wyckoff Avenue says the media company Seen offered him $120,000 to host an advertisement on his building for the next five years. The wall it wanted, which is right off the Jefferson stop of the L train, already features a mural by well-known street artists Chris Stain and Billy Mode of two girls smiling and hugging with the words “It’s just begun” behind them. The building owner says he kicked the agency to the curb.
“I told them, ‘There is already something there. Why would you want to destroy that?’ ” said Frank Mattarella, who handled the calls for the company on behalf of his elderly mother.
But other property owners in the nabe have surrendered their exterior wall space to big business. Advertisers recently erected an ad for sneaker company Converse on the side of House of Yes, an aerial arts venue that opened on the corner of Wyckoff Avenue and Jefferson Street last month. Ficalora said the circus folk agreed a year ago to let an artist paint a mural on their building wall once they had moved into their new digs, but when he returned a few weeks ago, they told him they needed to rent out the wall to supplement the venue’s income.
Advertising impresarios say they have as much right as the artists to ask a building owner to use a wall, and if the painters want to keep their work uncovered, they should make better art.
“This is America and I have the right to offer money to put advertising on a wall,” said Philip Kafka, president of Manhattan’s Prince Media Company, which has erected ads for Modelo beer, Skyy Vodka, and mCig vaporizers in the neighborhood. “The artist has a right to make a mural so compelling that the building owner would never think to cover it up.”
The Bushwick Collective says it has helped organize the creation of about around 65 murals in a 10-block radius since 2012. The murals are all legal, and the building owners offer their brick canvases to artists for free, Ficalora said. The artists usually spend their own money to create the works, though the collective sometimes helps to subsidize the costs, which usually run between $1,000 and $5,000 for paint and supplies, he said.
“Some of these artists are saving up for a whole year to do this,” he said.
Bushwick has changed rapidly in recent years, with hordes of hip young newcomers moving into the area, and bars and brunch spots following closely behind. But Ficalora said he plans to keep fighting the neighborhood’s increasingly corporate facade by reaching out to more local property owners and getting murals on as many walls as possible.