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There’s a good chance that you’ve gone for an early morning jog to find a derelict building unexpectedly concealed by an array of intricate images and colours. Overnight, what had once never caught your eye has you fixated trying to figure out what it is, what it means and where it comes from. Every crack and imperfection has disappeared, what was falling apart has become part of a greater whole and what’s left is an artwork that could possibly be exhibited in galleries throughout the world. Yet, for now, that gallery happens to be a seemingly irrelevant structure amid the ebb and flow of everyday life.
While some may call these spontaneous artworks lurking in urban neighbourhoods vandalism or amateur artists attempting to rebel against societal norms, there are others who see street art beyond just spray paint on a wall or a need to deface public property. “All the art we document is ephemeral, meaning it could last another 20 minutes or 20 more days or perhaps a few months, but it is going to disappear. Most people don’t see street art but, when you do notice it, you tap into the fact that there is an entire other level of creativity in all of our cities,” says Marc Schiller. As co-founder of the Wooster Collective, with his wife Sara, the Schillers would know.
Showcasing the stories behind street art, its creative beauty and the artistic skill in its design for the past eight years, the Wooster Collective website has become the de facto one-stop for worldwide coverage of the street art scene. The proverbial spray paint hit the html wall, so to speak, when Marc happened upon an artwork while taking their dog for a walk through their neighbourhood in 2001. At the time there was simply no website like it and the Schillers believed that street art was something that needed exposure and recognition.
“At the time Flickr did not exist, blogs did not exist, so this amount of digital photography and sharing was very new. Sara and I felt that we wanted to start with capturing what was in our neighbourhood – a very small area exploding with art – and share it with the people,” he explains, harking back to a very different time. Through the internet, the Wooster Collective website has since provided a platform for artists to come forward and claim their artworks featured on the site, which would have otherwise remained anonymous.
It’s difficult not to get absorbed in the absolute devotion of the website to its subject matter. Updated daily with images of the latest artworks appearing in cities across the globe, the website features work by and interviews with some of the most prolific street artists around, the likes of Banksy, Lady Pink, D*Face and Shepard Fairey. But the website doesn’t just feature known artists. The significance of their project is quite palpable when they let drop, rather nonchalantly, that the Wooster Collective gets about 500 emails per day with works by new and unknown street artists looking to become part of the phenomenon.
Much of the Wooster Collective’s success can be attributed to the willingness of others to share their street art with them, as well as what street art has come to symbolise as it has gained societal prominence. Views of street art have changed and continue to evolve as people begin to see it as an extension of a growing creative industry within the inner cities. Street art has come to be regarded as an artist’s way of reclaiming public spaces. While the legalities surrounding the creating of street art are contentious, with some countries enforcing harsher laws and others turning a blind eye, there is a growing drive for creative inspiration and acts of spontaneity in cities as a great resource of positive energy.
The Schillers stick up for street artists saying: “Most artists are actually looking to beautify abandoned buildings. They’re not going out there to destroy anything in the public space.” As such, it isn’t just about what happens behind the screen and camera lens for the Wooster Collective, it’s also about creating a tangible consciousness about the art that very few see.
Four years ago, Wooster Collective collaborated with developers Caroline Cummings and Bill Elias to bid farewell to the 11 Spring Street building in New York, a city considered the heart of street art. The building had become recognised across the world as a street art canvas and landmark, but had been bought and was going into renovation. “If you lived in the neighbourhood, like we did, you knew that the building was a museum if you will, an international gallery of street art because artists were brought to it from all over the world,” they explain. To commemorate the history of the street art layered throughout the building in spray paint, rubber, wheat paste, plastic, cardboard and metal, the duo curated a show where renowned street artists from around the world flew down to pay their respects by lending their creativity one last time before the art disappeared.
Since its debut, the Wooster Collective has shown no signs of slowing down. Under the name, the Schillers have published books bringing the works of these hidden artists to the public, into our homes and onto our coffee tables. They have hosted exhibitions of the art they have discovered, which has gradually led to the artists themselves hosting their own exhibitions. The Schillers fervently believe these artists should be recognised. “Artists are artists. They should be exploring all areas of their creativity and to go inside is a challenge for these artists, but they do learn how to put work on a canvas.”
When asked why street art and particularly their website has such a strong following, it seems to come down to the world’s need for authenticity: “As more of the world is sold to advertisers and our cities become inundated with advertising, we need something to balance that, to make cities liveable. There is an authenticity in street art, there is a human hand people respond to.”
The future for the Wooster Collective is unknown and the couple seem to have no problem with that. It could end tomorrow, next week or three years from now. But, as long as there are street artists willing to take risks and people taking notice, then the Wooster Collective will keep documenting the raw creativity exploding in cities throughout the world.
Before time runs out, a question that begs to be asked: Is the Wooster Collective dabbling in a bit of street art themselves? Well if they are, they’re definitely keeping quiet about it.