Cultural tourism is a concept that has been around for centuries. Starting with the pilgrimage in the Middle Ages and travels to Santiago de Compostela, Rome and Jerusalim which brought, besides the spiritual redemption, a cultural exchange. Later, during the Renaissance, the idea was a bit modified, leaving out the faith as a primary drive conceding it to the cultural upgrade of the artist partaking on the adventure of getting familiarized with what was going on beyond the walls of their hometowns.
Today, the cultural tourism is on a whole different level and the cultural offerings of big cities all over the world are one of the most appealing attractions for potential tourists. For example, it is not a strange occurrence to see the network of museums in Paris protesting against the decision of Louis Vuitton Foundation to open a private museum in a building projected by a superstar architect Frank Gehry, and by doing so, taking a piece of profit that once belonged to the state-run museums. On the other hand, we have seen an emerging trend in cultural tourism which includes the pilgrimage to the holy sights of street art, following the places of its origin and development, and searching for particular street art pieces of some of the most famous street artists. In this list, we will include some of the most appealing cities in the world for this kind of pilgrimage, because the real love of street art knows no boundaries.
New York - Street Art Mecca
Modern graffiti began in Philadelphia, in the 1960s. Shortly after the death of Charlie Parker (nicknamed Yardbird or Bird) in 1955, graffiti began appearing around New York with the words Bird Lives but it was not for about one and a half more decades that graffiti started to be noticeable in NYC. Around 1970-71 the center of graffiti culture shifted from Philadelphia to New York City, especially around Washington Heights, where writers such as TAKI 183 and Tracy 168 started to gain media attention. Using a naming convention in which they would add their street number to their nickname, they bombed a train with their work, letting the subway take it throughout the city.Bubble lettering was popular among writers from the Bronx, but was replaced with a new wildstyle, a term coined by Tracy 168. Graffiti tags started to grow in style and size. Ranging from the birth of simple signature tags to today’s vibrant murals, and covering the ups and downs of the movement, the culture’s value system, its social framework, the various forms of graffiti, and significant artists and crews, New York has witnessed it all.
Detroit - From Motor City To Graffiti City
In the past three or four years, Detroit has become a spraycation spot for graffiti artists. Formerly known as the automotive capital of the world, the media now refers to the Motor City as a bankrupt ruin—a shadow of its former self. Thanks to the city’s street artists, however, Detroit is experiencing an artistic renaissance. The work produced by graffiti writers documents the evolution of Detroit street art culture in more than a dozen neighborhoods in and around this resilient Midwest city between which emerged between 2008 and 2013, where one in every five structures is vacant, abandoned, or dilapidated. As industry disappears, the number of vacant walls increases, drawing the attention of the most talented graffiti artists and writers on the planet. And you can find almost every big name in graffiti art, from the Weird crew from Germany, to Aryz from Spain.
Philadelphia - The Mural Heaven
Philadelphia, in addition to a robust contemporary graffiti scene, is notable for producing an artist who is commonly regarded as the godfather of modern graffiti, Darryl McCray. McCray, better known by his tagging moniker, Cornbread, is a graffiti artist who was born in North Philadelphia in 1953 and raised in Brewerytown, a North Philly suburb. Before Cornbread began creating personal tags of his nickname, graffiti existed exclusively as a tool of gangs and gang members to stake their claims to territory. It was in a youth correctional center that Cornbread began his tagging practice, which then expanded to the streets when he was released and coated the city with CORNBREAD LOVES CYNTHIA to win the affections of a crush. From these modest roots, the movement spread throughout the city before making the jump to New York, where it bloomed into the modern graffiti movement, which reached its peak in the U.S. in the 1980s and before spreading to Europe.
Berlin - Europe's Street Art Capital
Street art in Berlin is a big industry. It’s not exactly legal, but the city’s title of UNESCO’s City of Design has kept local authorities from doing much to change what observers call the most bombed city in Europe. From the authorities’ point of view, the graffiti attracts tourists, and the tourists bring money to a city deep in debt. Berlin streets are awash with a variety of different street art styles, from giant stencils to the more recent paste-up phenomenon. The shortened lifespan of paste ups means that the street art landscape is constantly changing, evolving and adapting with the times with new creations cropping up all over the city on a daily basis. Street art can pretty much be found on and around any corner of the city but certain areas, often those that comprise of both former East and West Berlin and particularly those around the site of the Berlin wall, house many of the best gems, such as works by BLU, El Bocho and Xoooox.
Bristol - Meet The Greatest Street Art Here
While graffiti has traditionally been seen by local authorities as a menace and often as an indication of an area’s decline, the streets of Bristol have been filled over the past few years with an array of street art by those taking inspiration from the elusive creator. In just five years, the attitude of both politicians and the media appears to have changed completely – from seeing Banksy‘s work as vandalism to now viewing it as a huge cultural and economic benefit to the city. Banksy’s notoriety has even led to a relaxation in rules, allowing youngsters to openly spray the streets at numerous public events arranged in the name of street art. The Banksy exhibition in Bristol three years ago also attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the UK and the world. Artists from all over Europe have traveled to Bristol to add to the vast collection of street art already on display. One of those is Belgian artist Roa, who is internationally-renowned for his work. His artwork – an animal piece – sits in Nelson Street.
Paris - The Leader In The Emergence
The French capital was a leader in the emergence of street art, starting in the 60s with pasted-up posters followed by the first stencil artists like Jef Aérosol emerging in the 1980s – much earlier than many other cities around the world. Aérosol’s work decorates the urban landscapes of Europe and the US, as well as the Great Wall of China. Supported by the local council, Le Mur association was founded in 2003 by French street artist Jean Faucheur to promote urban art in France. Mur, meaning wall in French, is also an acronym for modulable, urbain, reactif (changeable, urban and responsive), and around once a fortnight, a different street artist paints over the 3m by 8m requisitioned billboard on Rue Oberkampf in the east of the city. Past participants include American Shepard Fairey, and French artists Miss. Tic and Jef Aérosol, The French graffiti artist Hondo’s work is pictured here. In Paris, urban art is also embraced by the art establishment, with several galleries featuring street artists. One such gallery is Sergeant Paper, located near the Pompidou Centre, which, by selling reasonably priced prints by famous street artists such as Miss Van, Shepard Fairey and Mode 2, maintains the accessibility and democracy of the genre.
London - Banksy's Playground
For twenty-five years London has been subject to a beautiful onslaught of criminal activity, reprehensible to some, embraced by others, colorful, witty and provocative. Street art, phenomenon of the 1990s, developed from graffiti art, a phenomenon of 1980s, is a regular occurrence on London’s streets; in some areas it is ubiquitous. Its existence in London owes much to the city’s cultural ties with New York, London’s wealth and status and to the talent and determination of Bristol based artist Banksy, who introduced street art to London. In London there are hives, around which street artists buzz, fanatics hunt and serendipitous locals and tourists register pieces on their mobile phones. These hives are to be found in Camden, East London and Leake Street in Waterloo. The Camden part of Regent’s Canal, in 2009, hosted London’s first and only street art battle between street-artist par excellence Banksy and an old time graffiti artist Robbo. In Shoreditch, East London, gallery owners, design studios and businesses, inspired by early works of Banksy, commission art on the outside of their buildings. This commissioned work is accompanied by an ever changing pastiche of gratuitous work, which has turned Shoreditch and East London into the spiritual home of street art. Leake Street, a disused railway tunnel just behind Waterloo Train Station became a hive for street artists and graffiti artists after Banksy organized a street art festival there in Spring 2008, which led to the tunnel being designated a legal space for street art and graffiti.
Buenos Aires - Temperamental Street Art
The street art scene began in ernest in the dictatorship years, mostly through disguissed political commentary. That changed in the 90s, when President Carlos Menem stabilized the economy and middle class kids were hooked on MTV. They saw New York street art, and began painting a-political murals again. That lasted about a decade, until 2001, a bond default, economic chaos, new presidents hired and fired, and street art became political once more. But Argentine society ebbs and flows like its economy, and the so-called art crews like RunDon’tWalk and Buenos Aires Stencils (Bs.As.stncl) have abandoned political statements and become part of a tribe of global graffiti nomads. It’s even become a business. Two U.K. expats founded the non-profit Graffiti Mundo in 2009, opened a studio in the city’s San Telmo neighborhood, offer tours, and help promote their artists worldwide to spray add some color to cityscapes.
Sao Paulo - Induced With Color
The metropolis of Sao Paulo is a leading centre of Brasilian street art, rivaled only by Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba. Since the mid-1980s, the local scene in that city has evolved into one of the most vital and artistically diverse street-art cultures in the world. It is characterized by highly distinctive and extremely varied interventions in urban space – and it is omnipresent in Sao Paulo. After twenty years of military dictatorship, the strong desire to promote the free expression of public opinion led to the growth of a politically motivated counter-culture. In contrast to the global scene, graffiti is not only tolerated in the cities of Brazil, it has been accepted to a certain extent as part of the visual culture. Brazilians distinguish between pixação, the Brazilian form of tagging, and graffiti, as represented by large-scale figurative and abstract murals of the type painted by the eleven artists invited to Frankfurt by the Schirn. Chronologically speaking, street art in Brazil begins with representatives of the first generation of grafiteiros (Vitché, Speto und Tinho). Born in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they began invading the streets with their paintings after the fall of the military dictatorship, thus giving voice to the desire to promote the free expression of public opinion after years of silence during and after the oppressive rule of the military regime. Facing a shortage of artistic resources, they opted, as they still do today, for wall paint and rollers in addition to relatively expensive spray cans. The younger protagonists in the scene, such as Os Gemeos, L7m and Ethos, also respond to the current social, economic and environmental problems in their city and are inspired by elements of indigenous culture as well.
All images are for illustrative purposes only.