ANGELES ó Inside the shops along Melrose Avenue, thereís
plenty to appeal to fashionable young customers such as
Melissa Wang. But it was outside the Paul Smith store
where the 25-year-old found what she was looking for.
you even visit LA if you didnít stop to take a photo
in front of the pink wall?" said Wang as she
snapped a photo of her friend.
morning until night, a steady stream of visitors from
across the city and around the world pose, pout and
preen in front of the clothing storeís Pepto Bismol-hued
wall. The crowds are so intense that the store hired a
security guard to keep things under control.
art is ingrained into Los Angelesí DNA ó the cityís
sprawling concrete backdrop has long served as a massive
easel for artists, from the muralists who pioneered the
vibrant Chicano art movement to the graffiti writers
plying their trade along the LA River. But in the age of
social media, street art is finding a new role:
providing the perfect backdrop for Instagram-worthy
shots, and the perfect lure for retailers seeking to
attract a certain selfie-taking demographic.
millennials willing to go out of their way to find a
piece of Instagram gold, businesses are eyeing the
artwork as a tactic to draw people outside ó and then,
hopefully, inside ó their stores. No longer relegated
to alleyways or roll gates, street art now coats the
facades of yoga and spin studios, restaurants, bars and
the Line Hotel in LAís Koreatown area, the "Peace
Tree" mural by Shepard Fairey brings passersby in
from the street, said Gabriel Ratner, vice president of
operations at Sydell Group, which owns the hotel.
stop by to grab a photo and then end up coming into the
hotel lobby for a cup of coffee or cocktail,"
hotel commissioned Fairey, famous for designing the
Barack Obama "Hope" poster, to design the
massive 10-story artwork for exactly that reason.
for everyone in the neighborhood to enjoy and take
Instagram photos," he said.
dazzling blend of melting rainbows by artist Jen Stark
has turned the parking garage at Platform, a Los
Angeles-area outdoor mall of independent artists and
merchants, into an unlikely attraction.
wanted to take an Instagram photo," said Alisha
Brown, a first-time visitor to the shopping center.
"Now, we got a cup of coffee and weíre going to
do some shopping."
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intersection of business and street art hasnít always
been so rosy. The medium shares a tumultuous history
with Los Angeles.
2002, as advertisers forked over money to turn brick
walls into billboards, the city controversially banned
murals on private property to crack down on commercial
advertising disguised as street art. After debate and
public backlash, the City Council lifted the ban in
2013, but only under the strict condition that no murals
could contain commercial messages.
the ban was lifted, the Department of Cultural Affairs
has declined 38 of 123 mural applications, some of which
were attempting to create commercial signs with
corporate logos, Public Art Division Director Felicia
an irony in partnerships between street artists and
businesses. As an offshoot of graffiti ó a
countercultural art scene long the bane of property
owners ó street art and retail businesses would seem
to be natural enemies. It has left some artists facing a
moral dilemma: stay true to the guerrilla traditions of
their artform or forge partnerships that can
exponentially increase the amount eyes on their work and
the dollars in their pocket.
question vexed artist Colette Miller, who is responsible
for one of Instagramís best-known backdrops.
illegally painting a pair of angel wings in LAís Arts
District in 2012, Miller found popularity almost
immediately. Instagrammers flocked to the scene, and
local businesses started approaching her about putting a
pair on their walls.
meditating on the dilemma, she concluded it was better
to get her art into materialistic spaces and provide
people an opportunity to think about whatís really
know people are trying to make money off my art, but the
goal of the wings is to remind people that we are angels
of the Earth," Miller said. "Whether itís in
a mall, prison or hospital, it doesnít matter. Weíre
divine souls wherever we are, so why be snobby?"
then, her Global Angel Wings Project has taken off, with
more than 200 sets of wings across the world. Miller
said about 90 percent of her work is commissioned. The
rest goes to areas of unrest, such as Juarez, Mexico, to
provide a symbol of peace.
rather work with permission and be sanctioned,"
Miller said. "With rogue graffiti artists, thereís
a level of disrespect and arrogance that their art can
live on a building they donít own because their
message is so great."
however, refuses to compromise on one aspect: corporate
Angel City Brewery commissioned her to paint a set of
wings, she obliged. When she returned to find that the
company had put its own branding on the mural, she
immediately asked that the added branding be taken down.
(Angel City said it removed the branding, apologized to
Miller and reprimanded an employee responsible).
isnít an advertisement, itís an experience,"
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businesses, writing a check to a respected artist can be
a substantial expenditure. According to Fixr, the
average commission on a 20-foot by 10-foot mural is
$8,020. Depending on the intricacy of the piece and the
size of the wall, that number can grow up to $20,000.
than pay out, some businesses are finding alternative
ways to woo the Instagram scene.
years ago, the furniture company Cisco Home tapped its
in-house marketing team, Small Green Door, to draw a
mural that said "Made in LA." Hailing it as LAís
latest Instagram-ready landmark, Cisco offered discounts
to anyone who snapped a photo with the mural and posted
it to Facebook using the hashtag #MadeInLAbyCisco.
LA locations of Zero Degrees, an ice cream and bubble
tea chain, display a set of wings similar to Millerís
work ó and the knockoff strategy appears to be
regularly plaster the shopís Yelp page with photos of
themselves in front of the piece. "Zero Degrees
gave me wings," wrote one customer.