In the 80’s, gentrification of the Lower East Side forced artists to move into the industrial neighborhood of Williamsburg and Bushwick.
35-years later, these gentrified artists, with underground identities, have transitioned the once high crime and drug-dealing areas into thriving lucrative communities.
Nardos Mesmer reports.
NARDOS MESMER: Cheap rent and high crime– this is how we once thought of Bushwick and Williamsburg. Calling themselves lowbrow artist, they once hung in the area and were associated with of graffiti and vandalism. Now, the same neighborhood has become trendy and accepting of this public art form that has developed from bubble letters to full-scale murals known as street art. Artists like Norris Carlos Jefferson, has worked as a street artist since he was a child and has seen the transition.
N.CARLOSJ: They started out just tagging names, free advertising. The next transition to that would be to add some art to it or an image to it. So then the characters, you drew a character that goes with your name and then let me make my name in bubbles but I don’t want to do script and then before you know it pieces.
NARDOS MESMER: Norris Carlos J has created major artworks for the Brooklyn Theater Art High School and Sweatshop. He recently curated an event showcasing the neighborhood’s graffiti past . He called the show Brooklyn is the Future.
NCARLOSJ J: It’s actually a brand I created with my partner Michael Peterson to empower youth. When I say Brooklyn is the Future, it’s like you saying ‘hey my voice has to be heard cause I’m actually the future of this community, where I’m at.’ (00:17)
NARDOS MESMER: One of the artists who participated is Savior Elmundo. He paints what he calls street art on canvas. I spoke to him at the Collage, a weekly event on the rooftop of the DL restaurant where artists meet to paint, dance and network.
NARDOS MESMER: So if you were to teach me how to do something like this how would you teach me? So the first thing you painted was the woman robot?
SAVIOR ELMUNDO: Yes, the woman robot, the spray cans and everything. Then we did the whole stencil with Brooklyn is the Future and when it’s all done you paint over it.
NARDOS MESMER: And that’s where all of these extra colors –
SAVIOR ELMUNDO: Extra colors and the drips, But the main foundation was beige.
NARDOS MESMER: This image looks a little distorted because of the colors. What was the purpose of that?
SAVIOR ELMUNDO: Cause that’s the future, because that’s the way I see it. The things that are still up there is the bridge and the robot and the cans. Humans are no longer so I see her; I’m going to keep graffiti alive and murals and street art., let me continue it as a robot. That’s the way I saw it, the future. (01:08)
NARDOS MESMER: Savior Elmundo believes the transition of graffiti to street art to global phenomenon, became trendy and cool. For one reason:
SAVIOR ELMUNDO: Hip Hop that’s all I gotta tell you. It’s started with hip hop, when we started hip hop down here and writing graffiti with the DJ’s or the DJ was the graffiti or the MC. We would never separate each other (00:17).
NARDOS MESMER: Kevin Michael, who hosted the Collage event with Savior Elmundo and works as a curator said real estate developers, agents and landlords play a big part in the commercial value of street art.
KEVIN MICHAEL: If you go to certain neighborhoods like Williamsburg or Bushwick where there is ahuge street art and graffiti scene. Real estate developers and landlords and realestate agents, that has now become a selling point because street art has helped actually raise rents (00:31)
NARDOS MESMER: Malika Granville of the Brooklyn Arts Council, told me street art has changed the identity of the tranditional artist she mentioned N. Carlos J’s even as an example.
MALIKA GRANVILLE: People use to think if street art as being taboo and not being part of mainstream art, but now you have artist like you mentioned and artsist that we work with called Brooklyn is the future which is a Mural painting that will go up in Bushwick (00:23)
NARDOS MESMER: Norris Carlos J believes with the the changing demographics, street artists need to become more business savvy.
NORRIS CARLOS J: There will be some people who say it was meant to be on the underground but it’s not going to stay in that space. It’s evolving to a point where you’re going to get left behind so either get in get down or get left behind. (00:21)
NARDOS MESMER:Local businesses have already commisioned art work by N.Carlos J and Savior Elmundo. Listeners can see photos of the street artists work at Uptown Radio.org.
I’m Nardos Mesmer, Columbia Radio News
Image Copyright N. Carlos J
Copyright Hanley Mellon