You don’t need to know the ins and outs of the street art culture to be wowed by the colorful walls in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. Once one of NYC’s most dangerous neighborhoods, Bushwick has now become the go-to place to immerse yourself in the city’s urban art scene and to see, arguably, the world’s finest display of street artistry.
Whether it’s your first time in NYC or not, dedicate an afternoon to exploring this open-air, living, breathing, ever-evolving street art collection.
How to See the Most Popular NYC Street Art Destination
I was excited to join the Brooklyn Unplugged Graffiti & Street Art Tour. For one, it’s always fun to be a tourist in your own city! But, even better, I love tours that teach something new. I’ve admired street art in cities like London, Paris, and Budapest. But, I’m the first to admit I know nothing about the culture of it.
So, I was glad when our tour guide Jeff started from the beginning. What actually is the difference between street art and graffiti? (Told you…I knew nothing.)
It turns out graffiti is made of letters, numbers, and names that are meant to catch the eye of other taggers.
On the other hand, street art is considered Post-Graffiti. It’s art not containing letters or names and it’s meant to grab the public’s attention.
I couldn’t help but think how much clearer this made things. How many times have you walked past buildings with graffiti and frowned, or perhaps, not even batted an eye? But, murals painted on a building’s side stop you every time, calling you to take a closer look.
Whether you know much about it or not, like me, street art’s beautification of buildings, outdoor spaces, and neighborhoods is easy to see. Bushwick looks vibrant and has a pulsing hipster energy to it, in large part, because of the street art.
What’s perhaps less visible, but equally as powerful, is the transformative effect the artists’ work has had on the neighborhood’s psyche.
So, how’d all this street art end up in Bushwick anyways?
Change happens when a force wills it so. In this case, the force was Joseph Ficalora. He grew up in the then crime-ridden Bushwick neighborhood and wanted to positively change the look and feel of the area. And, in the process, free himself from the painful memories over losing both his parents in the neighborhood, too. In particular, he wanted to stop random graffiti taggers from haphazardly marking up buildings.
In 2012, he founded The Bushwick Collective, a street art exhibition. He began by reaching out to street artists all over the world promising them a wall in exchange for their mural. Turns out, the factories and abandoned industrial spaces lining the neighborhood’s streets proved to be the perfect place for a public art collective.
The Bushwick Collective displays murals from a variety of artists all over the world in an evolving display of street art. Murals stay up for a year before they’re changed.
I loved this concept, especially for this gritty now turned trendy neighborhood. New murals and works of art change alongside the growth of the local community and from society as a whole. Doesn’t this bring to mind building or drawing in the sand at the beach only to have a fresh palette when the tide comes in?
This idea of fresh starts and new beginnings is one we all can appreciate and admire! And, over the last several years, the street art has stemmed off from the collective onto the surrounding neighborhood streets. Our guide, Jeff, walked with us for roughly 2 hours along a route about a mile long. We even got to see a street artist in the midst of creating a new mural!
Looks amazing! But, I only have a few days in NYC. 🙁
It can be so tempting to focus on NYC’s main sights and attractions, but there are so many reasons to leave Manhattan! Touring the Bushwick Collective and the neighborhood’s urban art scene with Brooklyn Unplugged Tours is one such reason.
I really loved learning about Dasic Fernandez, a Chilean street artist, whose distinctive style features a reverse gravity effect.
The sidewalk art of Paul Richard took my breath away simply because he creates portraits by dripping paint in such a quick way that he often goes unnoticed while he works! As someone with limited fine art skills, this almost doesn’t even compute in my brain!
Not to mention blocks like these covered in gorgeous art that make it hard to continue walking!
As much as you should get out of Times’ Square and spend time in Lower Manhattan, you need to make the quick trip out to Bushwick to see for yourself the NYC street art scene flourishing in Brooklyn.
Tips and Logistics
Brooklyn Unplugged offers a daily Graffiti and Street Art Walking Tour in and around the Bushwick Collective. The tour is approximately 2 hours and walks along an easy route through the Bushwick neighborhood. You can book your tour directly on their website.
When the tour is finished, stick around for some New York pizza! Roberta’s is legendary and you just have to save room for a signature slice from Artichoke Pizza. It’s one of my recommended 100 things to see and do in NYC.
Bushwick is easily accessed from Manhattan by taking the “L” subway train at 14th Street to Jefferson Street in Brooklyn. Wear a pair of comfortable walking shoes and bring your camera to capture the vibrantly painted walls all around.
Do you like discovering street art when you travel? Would you like to explore NYC street art in Bushwick?
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Disclaimer: I was a guest of Brooklyn Unplugged on their Graffiti and Street Art Walking Tour. It was an informative tour with amazing urban art displays. As always, all opinions expressed in this article are my own.