The power of street art

How LGBT artists are using the streets to start conversations and highlight issues affecting the community

Arts Arts and Culture Simon Elstad

This article was published on June 23rd, 2020

Even before social media, the streets gave artists a platform to express themselves and inspire change. Street art has been used for decades as a voice of the masses. While historically art was the preserve of the privileged, street art brought it down to the ordinary citizenry like Prometheus bringing down fire to the mortals.

If art prods us to think about the world around us, street art is right in our faces challenging us to stop and ponder the world. It stimulates conversations, and nowhere is that important as in starting conversations around difficult societal issues such as equality, race relations, economic marginalization, police brutality, etc.

The LGBT community has many incredibly talented artists who bring their skills and creativity to the streets to tell their stories and make powerful statements around such societal issues as love, equality, justice, diversity, and Pride. For example, in 2019, NYC Pride used the Mural Project to leave a legacy of WorldPride.

Street art – starting conversations and inspiring change

What makes street art such a powerful medium to inspire change? To answer that, you have to first step back in history.

Street art is any art situated in a public space or the public realm, and that uses vibrant colors, imagery, and messaging, transforming the open space into the extraordinary.

The art has evolved from the perception of being acts of vandalism to something that is increasingly widely accepted and celebrated as original, creative, innovative, and legitimate.

It characterizes the contemporary urban and community collective resistance, taking a stand against a wide range of societal issues.

Vancouver Pride 2017

Street art also markedly differs from graffiti. While the latter is characterized by writings and markings of individuals or groups, street art brings together the principles of art and design. It engages in the challenging issues facing a community and puts it squarely in the public’s eye.

For example, Murals have a strong community focus and are created for the folks who live or work around them, amplifying their voices and their issues.

For example, the World-Pride Mural Project, brought together LGBT artists to illustrate queer acceptance in NYC and articulate issues that leave a poignant message of the collective stories of the queer community.

Towards a more accepting world

Street art gives a voice to the voiceless. It’s the first and lasting sign of discontent, and not just in the LGBT community, but also in other marginalized or oppressed communities. When no other medium provides the platform to be heard, street art provides the platform and amplifies people’s voices.

This form of creativity adds a human touch and experience to otherwise drab, cold, and lifeless architecture.

It’s a powerful tool to inspire, energize, raise public awareness, and generate morale in the community as the Worldwide Mural Project demonstrated. As such, street art can lead to activism since the art’s value isn’t in the ability to own it but to articulate issues and its power to inspire change.

Queer art in the streets allows for a wider audience and creates awareness of the issues affecting the LGBT community. It expresses the history, stories, and struggles in the community’s code words and language, bringing it to people who may not know.

Queer street artists fight back against homophobia, and claim ownership of public spaces, opening up conversations, visibility, and Pride for members of the LGBTQ community.

You can see some of the famous works by queer street artists here or the hashtag #queerstreetart on Instagram.

Street walls, it’d seem, are the original platforms for communication, complaint, celebration, agitation, and intimidation—the original drivers of change.

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