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Art of the matter

Lee Bofkin is one of the co-founders of Global Street Art, an initiative that gives street artists a legal platform for their work and strikes an artful balance of commerce and community
Toby Harris

AutOne

After gaining a PhD in Mathematics and Evolution from Cambridge, a career in urban art hardly beckoned. But cofounder of Global Street Art, Lee Bofkin, has fused his business-savvy mind with his artistic passion to establish a unique creative platform.

Founded in 2012, Global Street Art strives to bring art to urban environments. The platform showcases thousands of artists from around the world, it organises community projects and supports itself through commissioned projects. It is responsible for organising around 2,000 legal murals in London, including more than half of those in the Brick Lane area since 2012. It is also active on housing estates and building sites around the capital. And with over 200k followers on Instagram, and half a million followers across all platforms in total, GSA is big on social media too.

Prior to setting up, Bofkin was a national break-dancer, but an injury forced him to develop other passions, one of which happened to be photographing the competitive subculture of graffiti. Now, his work promotes the ways in which street art and graffiti can build communities by engaging people and stimulating conversations. “It’s important to normalise art and I think it gives people a reason to stop and talk with each other,” Bofkin explains. “Public art encourages people to slow down, which leads to conversations and over time that supports communities.” he explains. “Imagine you’re on a bus, you look out of the window and you see a mural… maybe it lifts your journey by some tiny amount. Cumulatively, given the number of people who see it, that’s a significant impact. That’s part of the power of public art.”

Public art encourages people to slow down, which leads to conversations and over time that supports communities.” he explains. “Imagine you’re on a bus, you look out of the window and you see a mural… maybe it lifts your journey by some tiny amount. Cumulatively, given the number of people who see it, that’s a significant impact. That’s part of the power of public art.

The organisation has struck a fine balance between its community work and commercial viability. Having recently finished a project for Fendi in Rome, the agency works with some of the world’s leading brands yet, as Bofkin explains, “ninety per cent of the things we organise and support are non-commercial.” It is, he says, sustainable because “all the paint that’s left over from our commercial projects gets given back out into the community to help support painting in the housing estates, so it works well.”

The co-founder of GSA explains that demand for painted cities has grown in recent years. “About six or seven years ago there weren’t many people helping street artists find walls, so they had to do a lot of their own administration, especially if they were a visiting artist from another country. It’s difficult to make a living in street art but there are growing opportunities.”

Puerto Rican artist, Gabriel Nieto, 27, has been featured on GSA’s online artist profile, which has grown his creative network and allowed his art to reach wider audiences. He explains the benefits of GSA: “Exposure is great for artists like me because often times my artwork is only seen by those who live locally.”

Based in NYC, Nieto complements his commissioned work with community projects. As a professional painter, he crafts murals for brands across the United States, while his social efforts seek to revive local neighbourhoods. He says: “Every day my work is changing – [it] has evolved from tagging graffiti on the streets of New York, to creating fine art for galleries.”

GSA finds balance in a myriad of unexpected ways: from sharing physical street art with a large digital audience to uniting landlords, artists, big brands and community-building projects. Global Street Art demonstrates just what can happen when you fuse great minds with creativity and the power of people.
www.globalstreetart.com

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