My trips to New York City tend to be brief, always running around and never “seeing it all.” This trip, I decided to make an effort to explore more of Brooklyn, a place I’d only passed through on previous trips. When Brooklyn Unplugged asked me to come check out one of their street art tours, I was sold. I took the train to Bushwick, a neighborhood I was familiar with by reputation. Friends had lived here before, but I’d never made the trek until now.
The tours are run by Brooklyn native Jeff, who picks you up in front of one of the area’s many hip coffee shops. Bushwick is an industrial area that reminded me of Miami’s Wynwood. When the city center became too expensive, artists moved into these developing neighborhoods. Called the “next gallery district” of the city by the New York Times in 2012, the art isn’t just inside frames. It’s all around you including on walls, on trees, and even on sidewalks, including full-scale murals and quick tags.
Jeff first talked about the history of street art and graffiti, dating back 50 years to the artist Cornbread in Philadelphia. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the concept took off in New York City. These days, they’re more political in nature, speaking about everything from the current presidential administration to the rights of immigrants to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Much of the work you see in the neighborhood is thanks to the Bushwick Collective, an art exhibition founded in 2012 by Joseph Ficalora in an effort to beautify the industrial area, much like Atlanta‘s Living Walls and Outer Space projects. The collective now brings in world-renowned artists as well as employees local artists.
Like Williamsburg before it, Bushwick has now become more user-friendly, as I saw plenty of people pushing strollers around the vacant-looking warehouses, posing with their kids in front of the playful pieces. A number of locals gave us funny looks, some even pointing and taking pictures of the tourists. Perhaps they found it odd to see visitors to their neighborhood or had strong feelings about it. I’m not sure.
Well-known artists like D*Face (above) and Invader have works in Bushwick. And they’re not the only ones that want a piece of the neighborhood. Companies like Ray-Ban, Starburst, and Pilsner Urquell have commissioned murals as advertisements, keeping the bright colors and unique look of murals but with a commercial message.
I have experienced street art on both organized tours and just wandering on my own, but I prefer tours because they teach me something about the artists. On this tour, we even met one of the artists who was selling his merchandise. Many other companies operate street art tours in New York, but I recommend taking a tour for the full experience. And don’t forget to come back to see what’s new next time you’re in town!
If You Go
Tours run every day at 3 pm and cost $30 USD. This tour lasts around 3 hours and tips are appreciated. There are never more than 30 people on your tour but expect to go at a slow pace to snap photos. The actual walking distance isn’t far so it’s not strenuous. Brooklyn Unplugged also runs tours of Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo, and Long Island City. Book your own tour here.
Brooklyn Unplugged Tours hosted me on their Graffiti & Street Art Tour.