Two years ago the world’s first Street Art museum appeared within the structure of an active Soviet laminated plastics factory in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The reality is that impotent and unprofitable leftovers of the Industrial Soviet past are torn down almost all the time, surrendering to the giant capitalist commercial centers of today. Industrial land repurposed for commercial motives raises unemployment by approximately one percent, which in turn incubates crime growth by 7 percent, all while a chosen few make a fortune. A similar fate awaited SLOPLAST, which was the biggest factory within its sector. The wheels started turning a couple years ago, when after a street art party at the plant, Mikhail Astakhov, one of the museum’s curators, received a text from the factory’s management to negotiate the terms of the future museum.
Giving the plant an alternative future was seen as a substantial contribution to the local community, which would in turn bring about positive social change. The Russian youth are conscious and hypersensitive to the injustice of the ongoing social order, and their reactions to it take on the form of street art. The creation of the Street Art Museum has not only saved a drastic number of jobs, but has also contributed the operators’ cultural and social involvement by engaging them with the museum’s activity.
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Soon, 50,000 square meters of the factory’s walls will be covered entirely in murals. Such a vast space offers unlimited possibilities to artists’ expression. Museum walls are already hosting works by artists Ecsif, Pasha 183, Timofey Radya, Kirill Kto, Pasha Wais and many others. In addition, the museum’s 11 hectare outside area will be a platform for music festivals, performances, shows and other events. Thus the museum’s activity is not limited to only a pictorial aspect, but grasps every bit of the local contemporary culture.
Today street art’s crisis lies in its forceful withdrawal from its natural context. Paradoxically, “street art” is also showcased through gallery displays, where it can travel to museums and private collections. This tendency is an indicator of a rapidly rising interest in street art worldwide (ironically, very first article on Art Versed was on street art as well), but it may also lead to street art’s decline. Such enthusiasm appears to be damaging to the development of certain artists. The increase of demand defeats the purpose of street art by shifting its ideological and aesthetic content towards consumerism and away from opposing it.
While serving as the skin of a city, street art also serves as an indicator of its inner state; it reflects what we are as a society, thus it shall never be reshaped by demand and investments. Failing this, street art risks being transformed to a bias information source, like a federal news channel. Instead, it can be used as a 3D-dolby-cinema, which, according to Astahov, catalyzes concern and interest in art within the society. With its industrial setting, Saint Petersburg street art museum is a concentration of urban culture that gives birth to protesting art forms that are extremely important today to Russian society.