Will Five Points become the next 5Pointz?
Artwork destroyed by housing developers
Graffiti artists in New York were awarded 6.75 million dollars in damages for the destruction of 45 works of art. Graffiti artists covered the exterior of several buildings owned by Gerald Wolkoff with colorful graffiti art. In 2013, Wolkoff announced plans to demolish the buildings, referred to as 5Pointz, to make room for condominiums.
The artists sued Wolkoff, asking for an injunction to prevent the destruction of their artwork, which was denied by US District Court Judge Frederick Block. A week later, Wolkoff hired workers to spray white paint over most of the graffiti pieces at night.
This time, the artists sued under the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (“VARA”)—an act that prevents the destruction of artwork if the work is one of “recognized stature.” The warehouse remained for nearly a year after the graffiti had been destroyed. To the artists, this seemed to be a deliberate insult to the thousands of hours of work put into the murals. Judge Block thought so as well, this time ruling in favor of the artists.
Already, reminders of gentrification tearing up art districts in Denver have surfaced. Last August, activist group Amplify Arts Denver decorated a slab at the 38th and Blake station with flowers, crosses, and other tokens of mourning—while also adding, above the word “Art,” the letters “RIP.”
“Interpreting the slabs in question as graves marking the death of art in the neighborhood, the group thought to memorialize the creative spaces and activities that have recently been lost in the area,” said the activist group in a statement.
“Rhinoceropolis closed, Glob closed—these DIY spaces were for musicians who didn’t have anywhere else to play their music,” Thomas Silverstein, an art major, said. “It’s pushing people further under—the DIY music scene just completely dissipated. After RiNo closed, I didn’t, and I still don’t, really go to shows anymore because I don’t know where they are anymore. And now high school kids don’t have the spaces that they used to anymore. Queer kids especially.”
“Art’s cause of death may in fact be art itself, as it is art which entices consumers and adds a veneer of sexiness and authenticity to the area’s development,” which results in surges in rent, according to the activist group. “Evictions serve the dual interests of commercialism and bureaucratic nervosa, voiding the RiNo Arts District of actual artists. In reflection, we pondered over what it means that RiNo may become Denver’s first Arts District Without Artists. Has gentrification outpaced itself?” the activist group said.
Pushing artists out of designated art districts may serve as a deeper manifestation of the commodification of art. “In places like RiNo, you have a lot of government-funded art. I’ve seen the government prioritize art that is for their benefit and the sake of ‘development.’ They don’t prioritize real art that is raw and genuine. It’s just bad art,” Silverstein said.
As artists both in Denver and across the nation struggle against having both their work and their communities erased, it’s imperative to look at the larger implications of marketing art within a city that is rapidly succumbing to gentrification. “I’ve also seen a lot of dialogue from people working in the arts,” said Silverstein. “Red Line is doing an exhibition about space and the ways that gentrification and Denver’s development has affected the arts in real ways. Artists are coming together, but it’s out of this being a very dire situation.”
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