Before Kim Alemian, graphic designer and webmaster for the South Shore Art Center, visited Columbia in 2015, she hadn’t seen street art (or graffiti) as a genuine art form — she saw it as vandalism.
That changed during that trip to Bogotá after she and her students were invited to create a mural project for the Hogar Nueva Granada school on the campus of Colegio Fundacion Nueva Granada.
The project was a direct result of an earlier visit to Columbia by one of Alemian’s students, Desmond Herzfelder, and his parents, and their meeting with one of its art teachers, Diana Londoño. He returned home with the idea of going back to the school to create a mural project that would engage the kids there. Alemian was asked to create the project.
“For a week, we worked with street artists,” she explained. “Someone donated a lot of art supplies for us to work with. When we were going, we thought it was going to be for fifth graders and up but they have students who are age five and up and everyone joined in.”
Alemian’s taught and worked together with the 17-year-old Herzfelder, who has dual citizenship, since he was eight. “After returning from that trip to Columbia, he started creating work inspired by the visit and wanted to do a mural project at home,” she said. “As he was doing it, he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be good to do a show of Columbian and American artists here?’”
The end result is “StreetARTISTS | Bogotá –> Boston,” an exhibition of “communicative murals, street scenes and fine art” that will pair international artists with their Boston-area counterparts to work together to design new artwork, both permanent and temporary, for the SSAC campus.
Participating artists include Londoño, Dast and Zokos from Bogotá, Colombia; and Cedric “Vise1” Douglas, Percy Fortini-Wright, Felipe Ortiz, Destiny Palmer and Herzfelder from the Boston area.
Many United States museums and galleries have been hesitant to embrace the street art form; that wasn’t the case with the South Shore Art Center. “I presented the idea for the show to the exhibition committee and they were enthusiastic about it,” Alemian said. “A sponsor, who has asked to remain anonymous, is covering the cost of bringing the Columbian artists up and sponsoring the catalog.”
Her initial attitude to street art was reflected by many in Columbia until 2011, when a young artist, Diego Felipe Becerra, was killed by police as he was painting one of his symbolic Felix the Cat artworks in Bogotá. Wanting to avoid similar fatalities, the city’s mayor, Gustavo Petro, issued a decree that the city should embrace street art and the skills of those who create it. The city started holding contests with awards that offered supplies and mural space as prizes.