Once criminalized, street art has become increasingly accepted and even welcomed by local governments and business owners as a way to beautify public space. Today, just about every city around the world has a thriving street art scene. And works of street art are available to all, all the time, courtesy of the internet. But if you want to get out there and see some murals and stickers and stencils up close, put these 11 cities on your itinerary.
1. Mexico City
The origins of the modern street art movement in Mexico City lie with the muralists of the 1920s, including Diego Rivera, who used their work to convey social messages. The 2012 All City Canvas festival enabled artists like Roa and El Mac to paint on some of the city’s most iconic buildings, such as the offices of El Universal, a major newspaper. And in recent years the city has begun working directly with street artists to use their talents to create images that improve and inspire, much like the muralists of the past.
London’s dynamic street art scene got a big official boost in 2008, when the Tate Modern exhibited work by six renowned street artists from around the world. While artists like Banksy were putting up work on the street long before the museum’s recognition, an increased public awareness means that street art is permitted, lauded, and, in some cases, protected by plastic. One thing that hasn’t changed much? The best areas for appreciating street art remain in the East End.
Łódź isn’t the largest city in Poland. In fact, it isn’t even the second largest. So how did the country’s third largest city land on this list? Easy: it invited street artists to come and paint in safe, sanctioned circumstances, and they did. Since 2009, the Urban Forms Gallery has put up more than 20 giant murals in the center of the city, part of a permanent exhibition of street art. It’s truly art for the people.
4. NEW YORK CITY
From galleries in Chelsea to streets in Bushwick to warehouses in Hunts Point to apartments and houses in Astoria, New York City has the most diverse array of street art in the world. Stickers, stencils, wheatpastes, throw-ups, yarn bombings, posters, murals, LED displays and light projections, mosaic installations—if you can put it up on the street, you’ll find it somewhere in the five boroughs.
5. BUENOS AIRES
With the consent of property owners and the municipal government, street artists have transformed Buenos Aires into a kaleidoscopic outdoor gallery. In many cases, the art depicts Argentina’s political history, offering pointed commentary on current events. In other cases, however, you’ll find fantastical figures, cool characters, and realistic portraits of contemporary heroes. The city’s permissive attitude generally enables artists to be as detailed, as elaborate, and as thorough as they wish.
The Lisbon street art scene has undergone a recent expansion, thanks in part to Underdogs, a project to further “the establishment of connections, partnerships, and collaborative efforts between artists, cultural agents, and venues, while helping to bridge the gap between these and the public.” Naturally this goal requires lots of street art, and it’s on display both inside (in the affiliated Underdogs gallery) and outside.
According to its official website, “[t]he City of Melbourne recognises the importance of street art in contributing to a vibrant urban culture.” In 2004, the city held its first festival devoted to stencils, and for many years this Australian city was the go-to place for that type of street art. In addition to stencils, you’ll now find posters, wheatpastes, and more in the various lanes that comprise the city’s Central Business District, as well as in nearby suburbs.
8. LOS ANGELES
In 2011, the Museum of Contemporary Art hosted “Art in the Streets,” billing it as the “first major U.S. museum survey of graffiti and street art.” But the scene had been thriving long before, and continues to thrive years later. On billboards and in galleries, on the backs of street signs and along sidewalks, in public areas and on private property, street art appears throughout LA, an eclectic mix of pieces both big and small, legal and not.
“Every wall is a challenge” reads a strip of the Berlin Wall. German and international artists first took up the challenge in 1961, when the wall was constructed, and haven’t stopped since. The East Side Gallery memorializes the pieces that once decorated the structure and offers newer work by contemporary street artists, while the nearby neighborhood of Kreuzberg boasts big, classic murals by Os Gemeos and Blu, among others.
10. CAPE TOWN
“[R]emoving the greyness from the soul of the city is the job of artists, musicians, and poets,” writes Freddy Sam, a street artist affiliated with Cape Town, on his website. Certainly many of the pieces in this South African city heed this mandate, turning a drab wall into something worth looking at. Others, such as murals by Cape Town-based, internationally renowned Faith47, have a social or political bent or moral message, and are sometimes done in collaboration with local youth groups.
11. SÃO PAULO
For a long time, much of São Paulo’s street art was concentrated in the suburb of Vila Madalena, along a strip known as Batman's Alley. Now there’s MAAU, a city-approved open-air museum featuring murals by more than 60 artists. But the city offers plenty of other worthwhile street art for those willing to look on abandoned buildings, down side streets, and around less obvious places. On the other hand, it’s not hard to miss new work by Eduardo Kobra, who usually covers multistory buildings with his trademark multicolor style.