The proliferation of street art is making neighborhoods from Miami to New York and across the globe resemble outdoor galleries. Muralists, including many former graffiti artists, are creating mesmerizing aerosol art and turning walls and facades into their canvases. Unlike graffiti, which is illegal, these contemporary urban masterpieces are increasingly commissioned by developers, business owners, and arts organizations.
Rather than being secluded in museums, spray paint art in London’s Shoreditch and Hackney neighborhoods coexists with chic boutiques and restaurants. Lisbon’s Gallery of Urban Arts provides street artists progressively large and eclectic work areas scattered throughout the Portuguese capital. Vibrant street art resonates throughout Berlin, including facades in trendy neighborhoods near a surviving section of the Berlin Wall.
Perhaps nowhere has the surge in street art become more apparent than in Miami. In the Wynwood Arts District, formerly an abandoned 20th-century garment center, more than 200 murals span 50 city blocks, ringed by restaurants, breweries, galleries, and new and upcoming mixed-use developments and hotels. At its center is the Wynwood Walls, a decade-old 18-wall mural park.
“You had these solid, long, blank walls—for artists, giant canvases waiting to be transformed,” says Albert Garcia, chairman of the Wynwood Business Improvement District. “Because of scale of the walls, the canvases were so large, nothing like that was ever contemplated or visible before.”
A rezoning four years ago required a percentage of the facade of each building to “be saved for art. There has to be a true artistic component that is meaningful and impactful,” Garcia says, with private property, owners, and developers contributing to the “artistic dialogue.” Though the art is on private property, it’s meant to be enjoyed by the public.
Intriguing murals at Wynwood 25, a new 285-unit apartment and mixed-use development, draw selfie-snapping visitors to check out the rental complex, complete with rooftop pool, art-infused community rooms, and a courtyard with a towering, colorful mural. “As a company, we don’t want to have blank walls,” says Jon Paul Perez, executive vice president of the Related Group, a developer whose signature is incorporating art into its buildings. “Art adds character.”
Artist Markus Linnenbrink’s colorful painted stripes seem to drip off a facade of Miami’s SLS Lux Hotel and Residences. At X Miami Apartments, a 464-unit multi-family social community, fantastical artwork covers the garage, and Crayola-colored art walls punctuate an 18th-floor dog park. Murals mix with sculpture and architecture in the Design District, adding “an accessible entry point to discovering contemporary art,” says the neighborhood’s director of cultural programming, Tiffany Chestler, who oversees its art.
In Philadelphia, train, car, and walking tours explore the Mural Mile routes, part of the nonprofit Mural Arts Program that’s transforming neglected neighborhoods. Some of Manhattan’s best street art is downtown. Art permeates the High Line, an elevated public park with walk-through gardens built on a historic freight line. Murals and sculptures draw in the surrounding urban neighborhood, including contemporary works by emerging to long-established national and international artists.
But street art can be ephemeral. In anticipation of Art Basel Miami Beach, each December 60 to 70 percent of Wynwood’s murals are changed.
Not to worry, Garcia insists: “On Instagram, these murals live forever.”