This was my first time at 5 Pointz. I confess, it’s a shameful admission. To be clear, I had always admired this artistic monument from afar, usually when entering Long Island City via the 7 train. For years I had believed it was the best possible view. Clearly, I was wrong.
I put off ever making this pilgrimage to the graffiti mecca for years. It wasn’t until I had learned that the owners of the building, Jerry Wolkoff and son David Wolkoff, were planning on demolishing the building, once known as the Phun Phactory, by the end of 2013 in favor of a pair of luxury, residential towers conveniently equipped with an indoor climbing wall, a golf course and a pool.
On Saturday, November 16, I attended what without question will be the first of many rallies to save 5 Pointz. Artists, musicians, hipsters, hip-hop heads, punks, children…and even Captain America were all in attendance. Each collecting digital memories of the large-scale works of art, many of which are filled with distinctive characters whose eyes are in danger of never connecting with the children of tomorrow.
New York City leaders have consistently overlooked and undervalued the importance of art in our public school systems, cutting the budget by 45 percent between the 2007-2012 school years, according to data compiled by the Center of Arts Education. It never mattered to them that studies have shown that the arts can improve children’s math and reading skills, social development and memory. Most significantly, these art programs could instill at-risk youth with the necessary motivation to continue improving in the classroom and in life.
Still, budgets for art programs in schools continue declining.
It’s almost as if those kids, we, don’t matter.
No worries, though.
Lack of arts education between the walls of these industrial academic institutions had always been commonplace. So when Hip Hop was born, the unconquered children of imagination expressed themselves in a radical manner: The writers became emcees, dancers became b-boy/b-girls, musicians became DJs and the modern day artist—the graffiti artist whose work was initially barred from traditional art galleries—went outside the box and took that confined imagination and laced their creativity on the streets of New York.
“Outside is where art should live,” said Banksy, in the audio that accompanied his final piece during his recent invasion of New York, which paid homage to the ubiquitous graffiti-style bubble letters made famous in the 1980’s. Soon, it was apparent that many New Yorkers agreed with his statement.
Those in attendance, at the rally, showed support by signing request forms to preserve 5 Pointz as a landmark in New York City, and while standing inside the loading dock area we watched as teachers, artists and members of the community spoke on the importance of 5 Pointz.
“New York is kind of boring right now,” said Meres-One, a graffiti veteran and the gallery curator for 5 Pointz. “They’re overdeveloping it. They’re building these glass-tissue boxes that are made cheap—have no soul and they’re destroying all of our communities.”
The highest honor for an aspiring street artist is the chance to bless the mecca of graffiti art with the masterpiece which they’ve been preordained to create. But in the absence of Mecca, where does this artist go? The system has already told this child that his profound imagery is irreverent and has no place in the halls of learning, and somehow we expect this child to close his eyes and do nothing as this sadistically cunning and imbalanced system attempts to eradicate their institute of higher burning?
“A lot of people believe in using the system to change the system. It’s not our system. The public education system is not our system. The police, they’re not our police, “said Homeboy Sandman, a Queens-based rapper and supporter of 5 Pointz. “The systems are working fine. They’re just not ours!”
Homeboy Sandman proposed, as a last resort effort in the event of looming demolition, that we come together to organize and form a human barricade around 5 Pointz.
Gentrification has removed us from our communities and continues to do so. Today, it’s threatening to remove the beauty New Yorkers have created. A part of New York’s cultural history is on the brink of extinction, with two mundane structures prepared to simply exist in its place. These hollow towers are prepared to contribute nothing to the city, and despite the Wolkoffs’ ostensible promise for 20 artist studios, this admission of guilt is only evidence of a typical landlord’s apathy for the people’s concerns.
One of the last speakers at the rally, Marge, a thin woman with a heavy Brooklyn accent spoke about her ongoing relationship with 5 Pointz. As a child, she rode the 7 train back and forth just to admire the art on the building—a ritual which soon became refuge for a young woman who was forced to face the sprouting hardships which had planted themselves into her life as she got older.
One day, like me, Marge mustered up enough courage to get off the train to finally encounter the individual worlds each artist had spray painted on those walls she spent years admiring.
“This place has inspired me so much,” said Marge as her voice began to tremble. “I definitely feel this place has saved my life on more than one occasion.”
Now, it’s our turn to save 5 Pointz.
Editor’s Note: Sadly, 5 Pointz could not be saved. Days after the rally to save 5 Pointz that New York Natives contributor Enrique Grijalva attended, the Long Island City graffiti destination was painted white.
Featured image courtesy of New York Natives, Photographer: Enrique Grijalva