Last week, I took a 3-hour tour by Inside Out Tours! The award-winning company prides itself on offering “off-the-beaten-path and hidden history sightseeing tours” of New York City. It is also Black-owned and MBE-certified.
The tour focused on Alternative Street Art in the Lower East Side. We met the guide, Kevin, at the legendary Katz’ Deli. The weather was beautifully clear but chilly, so the idea of a 3-hour walking tour seemed sort of daunting for most! The tour participants hailed from all over, including Poland, Germany, Australia, France, but also Kansas City and California.
Some Street Art History
New York is very competitive for public space, Kevin explains. He gives us a brief history of the tradition of tagging. Modern graffiti started out with a street artist named Cornbread in Philadelphia. Soon after, a bike messenger using the moniker Taki 183 took the initiative to tag his name all over New York.
We get to see a variety of murals, some commissioned, some not. Stickers and posters also adorn the walls, street signs and lampposts. We also get a glance at a couple of fully-painted box trucks. A multitude of artists are on view, including Shepard Fairie, B.D. White, Os Gemeos, Fumero, Hertag, Jessa333. Katsu even takes it to the extreme with a huge drone-made tag.
“That’s the beauty of it”
A couple of times, Kevin takes us to a planned stop on his tour, only to realize that the piece of art he was planning on showing us has been painted over. One piece, Intermission, was actually getting painted over right as we arrived. “Oh well, that’s the beauty of street art. You might love a piece, get attached to it, and one day it’s gone. But what comes after it might be even better.”
Kevin also makes allusions to the ongoing gentrification of the Lower East Side. All over the neighborhood, we see construction and new, gleaming high-rises with signs advertising luxury apartments and condos. He briefly discusses the social history of graffiti, as well, while keeping it short and streamlined for his audience of international tourists.
Overall, this tour gives tourists and New Yorkers alike a renewed love for the city, its art, its characters and all that it represents. A must-visit!