“Haight Street Rat" at Cultivate 7 Twelve in Waco, Texas. Photo by G. James Daichendt
by G. James Daichendt
In 2010, the anonymous street artist Banksy went on a promotional campaign installing art in major cities to coincide with the release of his documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” The city of San Francisco was fortunate to be one of his targets and the artist created six stencils during the course of his stay. One particular image from this trip, now known has the “Haight Street Rat,” has become the focus of a 2017 documentary movie and has played a major role in facilitating dialogue about who owns public space, museum politics, artist rights, and the importance of conservation.
Brian Greif is the individual who saved the painting from being painted over by the city at the expense of his own pocketbook. Filming the entire process, Grief produced the film “Saving Banksy” that outlines his story of being offered hundreds of thousands of dollars for the work, his unsuccessful attempt to donate it to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the interesting dilemmas one faces when they become responsible for something that is valuable (monetarily and culturally),and how these ideals don’t always correlate.
Grief did not to sell that work. Instead he decided to make it available to borrow for public exhibitions. Since he made that choice the rat has traveled quite a bit. Most recently to Waco, Texas, a small town not necessarily known for street art but one that hoped to use the enthusiasm for Banksy to further art education, bring the art community together, and garner momentum to host bigger and better arts experiences in the western town in central Texas.
Brian Greif produced the film “Saving Banksy” Courtesy Greif, Bottom Right: Graffiti in Waco, Texas. Bottom Left: James Daichendt lectures on street art at Baylor. Photos courtesy of Daichendt
One of the stipulations for exhibiting the Banksy is that it must be free and accessible to the public. The Waco rendition of the exhibition, titled “Writing on the Wall,” was an opportunity for local artists to curate a professional show and to set a higher standard for exhibitions in the area. A mix of education and promotion, local partners including non-profit Creative Waco, the gallery Cultivate 7 Twelve, and curator/painter Ty Nathan Clark included several local artists in the exhibit to showcase regional talent.
The exhibit was then complemented with a full slate of educational events that provided language and history for talking about art and street art in particular.
In addition to the local art scene, the Baylor University Art Department also collaborated in some educational events and even included the Banksy exhibit in some of their assignments to ensure students engaged with the important concepts of the show.
There are also plans to bring additional internationally recognized artists to Waco to install public works. The French artist, Blek Le Rat is scheduled to visit this year and install several works around the city in collaboration with local businesses, an exciting development for the city.
The importance of the arts cannot be underestimated through this important time in Waco. While Banksy had a particular motive when creating the “Haight Street Rat” in 2010, he certainly could not have imagined how many lives it would impact. Brian Greif, the collector and aficionado responsible for this momentum, now manages the careers of several street artists and has enjoys this new direction in his life. The city of Waco is equally excited as the local arts community has now been connected with the academic community in a way that has never been realized.
Banksy’s appeal as an artist is remarkable especially the recognizability of his name. There is a lot to question regarding the narrative surrounding the “Haight Street Rat” and even the aesthetics of the image itself – after all, it was originally meant to be viewed from a distance high on a rooftop. While it may not be a supreme example of Banksy’s work, it is accessible, and it brings an excitement that makes dialogue about the arts easier. An important lesson in aesthetic education and what we need to do as arts professionals to build and grow our collective audiences.
“Haight Street Rat” in original San Francisco situ.
G. James Daichendt, Ed.D. is an art critic and author of six books. He serves as Dean of the Colleges at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. You can read more of his writing at San Diego Tribune.
PtD Field Notes: If you are near Waco, you can see “Haight Street Rat” in residence at Cultivate 7 Twelve in the exhibition "Writing on the Wall." It has been extended through Saturday, November 17. An Evening with Brian Greif is now on Friday, November 16. Extra Note: "Saving Banksy" was screened at UNLV in April 2017 with filmmaker Colin Day. The documentary is now streaming at Netflix.
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