Expensive high-rises and street art may seem like an unlikely combination, but in Chelsea, the two are experiencing a symbiotic relationship as legal, commissioned murals contribute to a rise in property values.
Street art has become increasingly trendy in New York, partly due to high-profile events like Banksy’s residency a year ago; though the anonymous street artist’s work was illegal in that it was not commissioned, it garnered a lot of press. Between his stint in New York and the recent razing of 5Pointz, the Queens “graffiti mecca,” as it was deemed by its curators and the media, the public has become increasingly aware of street art, with agencies like Graff Tours and Street Art Walk springing up to offer street art walking tours. Mural art is in high demand due to its positive impact on a neighborhood.
“The neighborhoods with the most murals are the Lower East Side and Harlem, which weren’t the good neighborhoods,” said muralist Danielle Mastrion. “I’m now getting requests to paint murals on buildings because landlords think it’ll attract tenants.”
“Most murals, when they go up, it really does keep away graffiti,” she said, noting that graffiti writers feel a “respect” for murals that prompt them to not tag over these works.
Chelsea has a rich history of street art and offers sight lines from the elevated High Line. A mural adaptation of pop artist Ed Ruscha’s work commissioned for the High Line Art program is flanked by graffiti on the side of a building; work by famed street artists including Eduardo Kobra and Jordan Betten are visible from the park. They exist alongside illustrations meant for advertising, like a series of murals promoting designer Diane Von Furstenberg near the High Line’s 14th Street entrance.
The market value of a nearby building that sports two Kobra murals increased from $880,000 in the tax year 2010-11 to $2,075,000 in the tax year 2014-15, with the murals painted in the summer of 2012.
“I’d say [the murals] probably contributed about 10 to 15 percent of the growth,” said Michael Rosser, a licensed real estate salesperson at the Chelsea branch of the CORE Group. “[The change in property values is] more attributed to the increase in value but I’m not saying the mural didn’t have an effect. The mural itself is an added benefit. Sometimes murals obviously do [increase property value], especially if they’re going to be a focal point or an avenue.”
Despite the seeming benefits of murals, not everyone is happy about the trend.
“Street art has kind of been used these days to gentrify neighborhoods, and that wasn’t the original intention, so that’s kind of ironic,” said Lois Stavsky the editor of the blog StreetArtNYC. Marie Cecile Flageul, 5Pointz curator and spokeswoman, agreed, noting that increased property values often contribute to pricing artists out of the very neighborhoods they helped adorn.
Street art still suffers from the often negative connotations of graffiti, and the overlap can be confusing: There is not a consensus on what constitutes street art.
“It’s hard to differentiate sometimes between murals and street art and graffiti and a legal wall versus an illegal wall,” said Mastrion, noting that she prefers to be called a muralist rather than a street artist because all of her works are legal and commissioned. “It’s all under the same umbrella. It’s all aerosol art.”
Others believe the legality of the work shouldn’t affect its value. “I think if it’s public and it looks good it’s street art,” said Stavsky. “Even a good tag to me is not vandalism.”
At new construction sites near the High Line, developers seem ambivalent towards graffiti and street art, citing its unclear status as art or eyesore.
“That’s not something we normally get involved with,” said a representative of the Hudson Yards Buildings Office of graffiti-prevention efforts at the building site on 28th Street. “To some people, that’s an art form, so it’s not something we regulate.”
“This is just from the gut, and it’s just an opinion, [but] I think a lot of that [negativity] might be generational-based,” said art historian Margo Ballantyne, who in 2010 was the faculty leader of the Lewis & Clark Graffiti & Street Art Project. “In other words, if someone is 50 years and older, it’s harder for them to look at any kind of graffiti and think that it’s cool and interesting. They just see it as destructive. If you’re having people that are 25, 35 coming in and buying those apartments, they’re the tattoo generation, the hip-hop generation, so I don’t think graffiti is objectionable to them. I think they understand it more.”