One person's urban blight is another's sprawling canvas—or so
Marc and Sara Schiller discovered seven years ago while walking
their Weimaraner puppy, Hudson, in their New York City
neighborhood. They became fascinated by the appearance and
disappearance of hand-made, wheat-pasted posters—from the cynical
and graphic (Bäst, Faile) to
the delicate and lifelike (Swoon, WK Interact). What the Schillers
planned to share with a few friends became the Wooster Collective—a
growing archive and thriving on- and-offline community.
Art by Bäst, Faile (photos: Luna Park) and Swoon (photo: Jake
Dobkin) at 11 Spring Street
Established in 2001, the website takes its name from SoHo's
Wooster Street—where the couple once lived, and home to the Candy
Factory, a former warehouse popular with international street
artists. The blog is now a trusted news source where you can get
the scoop on enigmatic figures like Banksy, as well as peruse an
extensive repository of graffiti from around the world.
By day Marc runs a digital marketing agency and Sara does real
estate marketing for a large hotel company, but their spare hours
still revolve around Hudson and their online “celebration of street
art.” Here, the Schillers discuss what makes them full-time fans,
what happens when ads and street art mix, and why the work should
be appreciated, whether or not it lasts.
Apfelbaum: The Wooster Collective is more than a website
or a walking tour or curatorial group. How did you find yourself at
the center of the street art movement?
Marc: [Sara and I] were always around and
involved in art in different ways, and we've always been really
connected to New York. And we're the type of people that have
always taken advantage of the city. There's a whole other layer to
New York that exists, until recently, under the radar of most
people—they walk right by pieces of original art that's been put up
anonymously on buildings and on lamp posts and on construction
Outside 11 Spring, featuring work by Faile, Bäst and JR (center)
(photo: Jake Dobkin)
After a year of literally taking pictures of ephemeral
art—documenting something that really doesn't last more than a day
or two, maybe a week, a month if lucky—I was going to delete [them]
off of my hard drive. Then I found a little piece of software where
I could very quickly, easily just put them on this webpage. I
emailed probably 20 of my friends—all designers or they were
artists themselves or they were involved in creative work. They
emailed their friends, and then after a couple of weeks, I was
curious to see if anybody was looking at these photographs of all
this street art, and there were tens of thousands who had.
Apfelbaum: I like that you don't just say, “Here's a
cool photo,” but you interview and have access to these incognito
Marc: Well, it's all about communication. We're
not artists ourselves, so we don't communicate visually. Artists
communicate visually, and sometimes are nervous about communicating
through their own voice.
At the time , it was a type of art that the mainstream
media wasn't writing about, that exists in every city in the world.
We [became] aware that hundreds of thousands of people had been
following this art form, this movement, on the web—not just through
our website—and that it's just grown and evolved. As the mainstream
media looks for new art forms, and as brands and advertisers look
for things, there's been this crest of a movement [and] we've found
ourselves at the center of documenting it.
Apfelbaum: When did you realize that you werenot onlyfilling a niche but actually
mobilizing a creative, cultural force?
Swoon at 11 Spring (photo: Jake Dobkin)
Sara: The whole thing has been by accident.
Marc put up some images, and a woman named Ange Taggart reached out to
him [to use an image]. She was coming to New York City to lecture,
and he said, “Well, you sound really interesting, why don't you
come over to our loft and you can give a talk?” We sent out an
email to a bunch of people we know from the business world,
marketing, and a bunch of our artist friends that we know, and a
bunch of people who'd been emailing us, that we had an email
relationship with, like Swoon, who we'd never met face to face. And
Ange was such an amazing first salon to have. Then we got to know
Christina Ray from Glowlab,
and she's the one who asked us to do the first walking tour.
For Ange's event we thought we'd have 20 people come, and there
were 80 people who crammed into the apartment. For the walking
tour, I literally photocopied 10 maps to hand out, and we had 75
people. And subsequent walking tours we've had hundreds of people.
I don't think we knew even then what we were really tapping
Apfelbaum: You started out locally, but the Wooster site
covers the international scene, too. How did it
Marc: What Shepard Fairey was able to do before
the web was really have his street art in every city in the
world—there's not a city [where] if you look up at the lamppost,
you'll [not] see the Andre the Giant sticker.
A lot is happening here, but we started realizing it was cities
like Barcelona—and London, Sao Paulo— that were really driving the
creative spirit. In Melbourne, the stencil stuff; and South
America, the incredible vibrancy of Buenos Aires. Once you start to
put up a few things from a certain city, then other people from
that city see it and it starts to grow. We get around 500 emails a
day now from every place: from China, India, Iraq and Iran.
Sara: But not as much [from] Japan, which we
want more of.
Apfelbaum: Since you began, so much has changed in both
technology and urban development. The face of SoHo is almost
unrecognizable. I mean, there's still the outdoor gallery on the
Candy Factory, which you introduced me to...
Marc: Which is now going away.
WK Interact (photo: Luna Park)
Apfelbaum: It's being torn down? I guess I shouldn't be
Marc: What you find with most street art is
that the artists are putting up their art in buildings that need
repair. Gentrification affects street art a lot because an artist
isn't motivated to destroy a beautiful building just to put up
artwork. The artist is motivated to take a factory that is being
run down and put their art up there for people to see it. There is
still artwork on the streets in SoHo, but a lot less because the
buildings that really attracted street artists are now
disappearing. And those are the buildings that are older and need a
little bit of life added to them.
Apfelbaum: Eleven Spring Street is an amazing example.
Last December you curated a weekend-long exhibition, Wooster on
Spring, where the entire building was occupied by street
artists' original work. I heard the lines to get in went around the
block! How did it come about?
Lines at 11 Spring Street (photo: Michael Simon)
Marc: One of those once in a lifetime
opportunities. When we started dating, Sara lived on Mott Street,
and we'd been fascinated with that building for years, and then
documented a lot on the Wooster site. It's one of the few buildings
that have become kind of outdoor galleries, outdoor museums for
One day we got a phone call from the woman [Caroline Cummings]
who had just bought it. And she became interested in all the art on
the outside of the building...
Sara: She's a young developer who had her
master's in art history and fell in love with the building, and
researching the art [on it] she kept coming back to our site.
She reached out to us [and] said she wanted to honor the history
of the building before they cleaned up. Marc and I have this
laundry list of ideas of things we want to do, and one of them has
always been to get a building and have artists paint on the inside
walls. We mentioned it to her—and to her credit, she agreed to take
the risk and do it. Then we began a seven-week journey to paint
30,000 square feet of interior space and pull together that weekend
show, where we were open for three days and about 6,000 people came
through the building.
Apfelbaum: You certainly tapped into something special
11 Spring Street “Behind the scenes”
Sara: Besides just how beautiful the art was
and the level the artists took it to, I don't think we would have
known before it started that we would be so impacted by spending so
much time with the artists and watching them create and seeing them
interact with each other and just the whole creative process and
being able to have this sneak preview into that was pretty
And the impact it had on New York City—no one could have guessed
that people came in and saw the show and started crying. People
were moved. They thought it brought back the heart and soul of the
city, that it reminded people of why they lived here. It had such a
profound impact specifically on the neighborhood. And then the
greater New York City community, who was really proud that their
city could do something so amazing for free. Being able to enable
that is a reward that Marc and I will never forget.
Apfelbaum: Oh, now I'm really sad that I missed
Sara: I feel sorry we couldn't keep it open for
more days. But that's how those things go. It's just a fleeting
moment and then it's gone, just like street art. In all senses, it
represents [street] art itself.
Marc: There will be a book. It was a great
Apfelbaum: A book would be amazing.
Sara: Ah, we're not going to commit to
Apfelbaum: Good thing there's the web, in the
Marc: It's extremely well documented on the
Sara: One of the things I liked about the
impact of technology is, when you Googled “11 Spring” and went to
all the blogs that covered it, every single blog picked a different
image that to them represented the show. It was neat just to see
what people gravitated towards to put at the top of what they'd
written about it, besides the hundreds of
photos that were on Flickr.
Apfelbaum: It's impressive that the building owner's
intentions were so pure—and yours, too. Not everybody sees urban
art that idealistically, though. Aside from the people who see it
as vandalism, there are those who want to co-opt its credibility
for their branding purposes. Do you have a position on the
commercialization of this art form?
Marc and Sara (photo: Dan Bergeron)
Sara: Artists can evolve and change over time,
and people need to do what they think is right in order to live
Marc: As long as they're doing art, though...
The idea of “selling out” is really stupid, in the sense that I
think it's a really personal thing, if you want to get involved in
a brand. At the same time I don't believe that an artist should do
anything that comes their way. There's a lot of jobs that
somebody could take. Everybody has a different threshold.
Apfelbaum: But do you think its authenticity gets
Marc: I get excited when artists move into the
fine art world, when artists start working with brands—if
they're challenging themselves. There is only so long that you
can go out on the street and get arrested, or risk that. So you
have to evolve it. If that means you have the ability to make it in
the fine art world or you have the ability to do some interesting
work with brands, I think it's great.
Apfelbaum: How about when advertisers use the stealth
methods of street artists to their advantage? Marc, you work in
Marc: But I have very strong feelings about—I
think an ad should stay an ad, and a piece of art should stay a
piece of art. And you should realize where the lines are drawn. I
don't believe in guerrilla marketing or stealth marketing, or ads
that generally want to have it both ways and be credible in kind of
an underground way.
Sara: People will consume good advertising,
knowing that it's advertising. I happen to love the Apple iPod ads,
I love how they're evolving them. I like consuming those ads
because, I don't know, they make me feel good. People hate
consuming bad ads.
Gore.b at 11 Spring
Apfelbaum: Since you're admittedly fans, who are some of
Sara: We have always loved Swoon. We like
Gore.b, Elbow Toe... we like so many artists!
Marc: Every week there's a new artist that
inspires us that we start to really like. The good thing about
“favorite artists” is that you don't have to limit it.
Sue Apfelbaum is a freelance writer and editor with a focus on design, art, music, film and culture. From 2006 to 2012 Sue was the editorial director for AIGA, publishing critical, inspirational and educational content about design on the AIGA website and
developing programming for AIGA's webinars. Visit http://about.me/sueapfelbaum
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