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The Street Art of Bushwick Collective Is Disappearing Under Billboards

Last week Frank Mattarella received an interesting phone call

All photos by Katarina Hybenova for Bushwick Daily

Last week Frank Mattarella received an interesting phone call. Jason Medrano from Seen Outdoor Media was offering him $24,000 per year to rent a single wall on his building at 14 Wyckoff Avenue. Frank Mattarella was born in Bushwick- his family has owned the building on Wyckoff and Troutman for decades and they've rented it as a metal fabrication shop. His neighbors are North East Kingdom on one side and an industrial warehouse on the other. The recently painted warehouse is already sporting two billboards- a larger one with a Sprite ad, and a smaller one with an Atlantic ad.

“But you know that The Bushwick Collective has some art on that wall,” Frank recalls telling Seen Media. “Yes, but they don’t pay. We do,” they simply replied.

Frank Mattarella was offered $24,000 per year to rent a wall on Troutman and Wyckoff for billboards

Seen Outdoor Media's proposal.

The warehouse next door is already sporting a Sprite ad.

Later that day, Bushwick born Joe Ficalora, founder and curator of The Bushwick Collective, was pointing at Frank Mattarella’s building. The Wyckoff Ave side of the building has been covered with a striking mural with political undertones titled “The Hand of Protest” by Chilean artist Dasic Fernández. The Troutman side of the building currently belongs to an artistic collaboration between Chris Stain and Billy Mode whose mural permeates with a compelling message to Bushwick’s youth: "The future is yours to invent."

“I made this part of the neighborhood desirable and now they are cashing in on it while doing nothing for the community,” Joe told me with a mixture of anger and sadness in his voice. “But what can I do about it?” he asked himself rhetorically.

Joe started The Bushwick Collective in 2012. His mom just passed away of a brain tumor and he couldn’t stand looking at the empty walls haunted by the memories anymore. Without any background in art, he googled “street art” and invited the first artists to paint the walls belonging to his abiding neighbors.

Fast forward to 2015. The Bushwick Collective has sprawled to include a ten-block radius of walls in the area off the Jefferson L. Hundreds of well-known street artists from New York and across the world came to Bushwick to leave their mark here. 76,000 followers on The Bushwick Collective’s Instagram page, as well as thousands of locals and tourists alike, admire the colorful murals every day. The murals shifted the energy of a sad industrial wasteland into a magical wonderland where everything is possible. Joe and The Bushwick Collective have been featured in hundreds of media outlets and in several short documentaries, one of which was commissioned by The New York Times. This June, 16,000 people came to The Bushwick Collective Block Party. “Did they come for billboards or for street art?” asks Joe. “But all of their Instagram photos included these billboards as well even though the building owners didn't want to participate or support The Collective.”

16,000 people came to The Bushwick Collective Block Party snapping photos of billboards alongside street art even though the building owners declined the support to The Bushwick Collective

“My friends came here from Philly to see street art,” a Bushwick resident Robert tells me pointing to his two friends instagramming a street art piece. “But this,” he continues while pointing at two billboards attached atop the Bushwick Collective murals at the corner of St. Nicholas Ave and Troutman St, “this is destroying and exploiting art while disrespecting it at the same time.”

As Joe and I walk towards the House of Yes building on the corner of Jefferson St and Wyckoff Ave, a painter on a crane is painting a large black Converse advertising mural. “Anya [Sapozhnikova] said that she wanted to be a part of The Collective and asked us to make the building beautiful,” Joe tells me. “So Jorit Chi was supposed to paint a hyper-realistic mural of a Bushwick child there,” he adds. “Anya is mad cool and I know they need the money but…”

“We never quite confirmed with Joe,” said Anya Sapozhnikova, one of the founding owners of House of Yes. The 308 Jefferson St space will be the third reincarnation of the DIY artist collective and a performance venue after they were priced out of their location in East Williamsburg. In summer of 2014, House of Yes raised almost $100,000 on Kickstarter to open a legit venue with a bar and a restaurant on top of their aerial circus.   House of Yes has been performing extensive construction works including building a floor on top of the existing building.

"The money is really tight. If government funded arts we wouldn't be having this conversation."

“The money is really tight,” Anya told me. “The only way to fund arts is through the sale of liquor but since we’re not open yet because of all the delays, we can’t do that. This mural has been a godsend.”

“I called up these giant billboard companies, but they had no idea what the neighborhood was or who we were. And then I talked to a hand-painted murals company called Colossal. The people who work there are real artists. We were very comfortable with how they were running their business and the kind of people they were. Moreover, they gave us a lot shorter contract,” Anya explained her decision to rent out their giant wall facing Wyckoff Ave. She didn’t want to disclose how long their contract is or how much they’re getting paid for it.

“If we had governmental funding for the arts we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Anya concluded.

“I don’t know what we're going to do,” said Joe. “I spoke with the community board members but they didn’t know how to help me, it's all new for them. We could turn this into an art district but I can’t do it on my own…”

The Bushwick Collective has become one of the world’s most popular street art sites but this can quickly change with the billboard fever that's been spreading across the neighborhood like a virus. The neighborhood loves its street art but in the end, money talks. Advertising has always been the force to support creative endeavors (it’s the only way Bushwick Daily functions as well), but it’s disheartening to see recent developments at The Bushwick Collective. Perhaps there is a way in which brands can collaborate with street art without hijacking it and alienating the community at the same time...

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