The Role of Street Art in City Branding Strategies

The Role of Street Art in City Branding Strategies

Street Art in City Branding – My essay for University

Twenty percent of travellers increase the length Street Art in City Branding of their visit to cities because of an art or cultural event (Bartholomew, 2017). Vivid Sydney (Light, Music & Ideas Festival) had 700.000 more people visit in one year than came to the Sydney Olympics, cost 100 times less than the Olympics and demonstrates that art has a key role in the profitability of a city (Bartholomew, 2017). Many urban cities use street art festivals in their aggressive re-branding strategies to be considered a creative city (Banet-Weiser, 2011) and to raise profitability for the corporate sponsors (Okano, 2010). It can be argued that corporations are co-opting street art in two ways. First, festivals are used as a selling strategy to raise profitability for corporate sponsors. In this case, street art is no longer an initiative of the artist but of the developer (Schacter, 2014). The second influence allows cities to rebrand themselves as creative cities. However, this raises issues between the branding of creativity and the Authentic (Banet-Weiser, 2011). Authentic meaning contrary to generic and is used in relation to actual buildings, people, history, autobiographical stories and the real place of value and meaning (Banet-Weiser, 2011).

First, as a selling strategy corporate sponsors use festivals to raise profitability for corporate sponsors (Okano, 2010). Cities have begun making new policies in the name of urban revitalization. They are discovering which aspects encourage creativity and raise profitability for corporate sponsors (Okano, 2010). Street art festivals have been the main delivery system for these creative practices (Schacter, 2014) and have become the main branding tool for creative cities (Banet-Weiser, 2011). Street art festivals are one of the innovative industries that are marketed to be public art events but are private art festivals in disguise. They use a regulated form of covering up political yet impartial loaded graffiti thus losing authenticity but gaining aesthetically pleasing designs. This act indicates a great deal of power, it makes street art without the street and therefore it is no longer considered public art, but private art. See as an example the mural by Drapl and Treas in Russell Street as part of the First Coat Festival in Toowoomba (Figure 1). These designs are in line with the brief to complement the conceptualization of a creative city and are mostly anodyne and meaningless murals. The benefits of street art festivals fit perfectly within the creative city structure and revitalize public spaces (Schacter, 2014). Due to the continuously changing artworks keep people coming back to get a feel-good hit (Bartholomew, 2017). Street art invites the community to engage with the artwork and has the power to bring back a feeling of community cohesion and purpose (Conklin, 2012). The outcome is an increased quality of life value for the community (Okano, 2010). International street artists are contracted by the street art festivals. They are role models that add strong work and their presence is an educational tool for local street art talent (Daichendt, 2013). However, street art festivals cause inequality and injustice within creative cities by contracting internationally renowned artist over local artists and focus on what is good for the creative city, but not what is important (Schacter, 2014) according to local artists and residents. Street art festivals need careful contemplation as it brings an exuberant art scene. They also help increase tourism to cities at the same time they are significant artistic beacons. With caution, free walls might be the answer as it gives the youth a place to express themselves (Conklin, 2012).

An example of Street Art in City Branding. This is a mural by Drapl.
Figure 1. Drapl and Treas, Russell St. Toowoomba, (accessed 14 August 2017)

While the developers use street art festivals to raise profits it also attracts the Creative Class people. To build creative cities, a city needs to attract the “Creative Class” people as termed by Richard Florida (2003, 283). Street art is a place marketing tool used to attract Creative Class (Banet-Weiser, 2011). Street art is considered a high-quality experience that the Creative Class identifies with and uses to authenticate themselves (Florida, 2003). It is the Creative Class and their ability to collaborate between and within fields of advertising and street art that enable the branding of the creative city (Banet-Weiser, 2011). The Creative Class are essentially strangers or newcomers to a city and are necessary for the development of a creative city (Okano, 2010). Their input must be valued as this is the core to become not just a multi-culturalism but an inter-culturalism society. After the creative class migrates to a city, corporations soon follow (Florida, 2003), boosting the media, arts and cultural industries which stimulate tourist trade. Wynwood in Florida is a successful example. See before and after images of a Wynwood street (figure 2+3). After the first street art festivals, housing and consumption venues were established and artists lofts and gallery spaces were converted from old warehouses and multistory factories. The creative class moved in substantial numbers (Feldman, 2011). Soon after, the corporate world took over the city to align with global acceptance of street art. New technologies and social media allowed the street artists to develop their own artistic brand (Banet-Weiser, 2011). They could now reach far more people than ever before. This reach demonstrates the creativity of the city globally and attracts tourists.

Street Art in City Branding Wynwood before murals Street Art in City Branding. Wynwood after murals.
Figure 2+3: Wynwood before and after, (accessed 14 August 2017)

However, street art is no longer the initiative of the artist and have left artists concerned with the development of creative cities. They have started to rebel against the bullying power of commercial interest. Street artists such as Smear took the matter into their own hands and started selling their works to private collectors (Banet-Weiser, 2011). Demand for this style of art increased and in turn boosted the recognition of the aesthetics of street art and the artists. Street artists have made a name for themselves in the branded world. As street artists were already considered to be Authentic, their work has become a brand itself. This has not only authorized but also normalized the practice of self-branding (Banet-Weiser, 2011). Self-branded artists such as Banksy, Obey and Sheppard Fairey showcased their brand not just on the street, but also in galleries around the world. Instead of street artists appropriating the commercial world their work is now being appropriated by the advertising world (Banet-Weiser, 2011). In one example, Levi saw this as an opportunity to use the brand Obey of the artist, Sheppard Fairey, to design a street art inspired line. To celebrate the collaboration Sheppard was invited to paste up his signature posters in front of the Levi store (figure 4). Levi did not just build their own brand but also built on the brand of the artist in a convergence between authenticity and the commercial (Banet-Weiser, 2011). Levi made the connection between place and profit with branding as focus, thus place marketing. In other words, this form of advertising has become a branded commodity or a tool for relating products and place into one aesthetically attractive entity (Schacter, 2014). It raises the question if street artists have traded profits over authenticity and if they have become deceitful of their art.

 Street Art in City Branding. Fairey mural, Obey in Time Square.
Figure 4: Fairey, Sheppard, Levi’s Times Square Mural, 2009, poster paste-up, (accessed 6 August 2017)

Although cities are rebranding themselves to be creative cities, street artists rejected and critiqued the privatization of city resources and diminishing public spaces. They interrogated the role of public space (Banet-Weiser, 2011). Within the branded city street artists used their creative practice to counter-brand. World-renowned street artist Banksy summed up the advertising vs street art dispute. He highlighted that while artists are penalized for using public spaces, why it is justified in the name of profit (Banet-Weiser, 2011). Thus, growing tension between corporate and authentic street art needs to be governed and managed to ensure that street art does not lose its authenticity (Banet-Weiser, 2011). The significance of authentic street art validates real places of cultural importance by adding aesthetic, historical, social and potentially scientific values in the form of abstract history (Merrill, 2014). Street Art and corporations are symbiotic and support an authentic yet commercial divide. Artists and the art market are both involved in the strategic blending of street art to market logics and art aesthetics (Viconti, 2010).

So, street art, including graffiti, is a vital attribute for the creative city. It may be a contentious statement, but graffiti is a necessity. However, the new Authentic Creative City obscures the True Authentic native community that might have lived in these areas for many decades. The privatization and revitalising of building creative cities see developers as the initiator in the acquisition of street artists. This process seems to overlook local needs and conceals the intricacy of the local community. Schacter (2014) describes how long-time residents of the town of Wynwood in Florida started to feel estranged to the edgy look and feel of their own precinct. With the increased arrival of creatives and tourists, the locals could only watch on as local businesses, that provided employment and the very sense of community, were eradicated. They found themselves estranged from their local community and eventually pushed out of their homes (Schacter, 2014).

In conclusion, street art and street art festivals are a necessity for creative cities to keep drawing in the creative class people and tourists with an exuberant art scene. Street art and street art festivals are used as a selling strategy to raise profitability for the corporate sponsors and allow cities to rebrand themselves as part of the globally recognised creative cities. In turn, this has allowed the initiative to become the role of the developer not the inspiration of the artist. This change in relationship demands new policies to create a balance within public spaces. The changes in the role of street art from aesthetic to commercial have seen the convergence of the commercial and the authentic using each other in the branded city for profitability. Street art has an important role in place making and place marketing and profitability.

As I was writing my essay for my current Unit at Uni, I looked over one of my previous essays about street art. I was checking on what I hit and what I missed. As I am reading over it, I thought, hummmm, this is actually a good read….. So, I thought to share it with you. 


Banet-Weiser, Sarah. 2011. “Convergence on the Street: Rethinking the Authentic/Commercial Binary.” Cultural Studies 25 (4-5): 641-658. doi: 10.1080/09502386.2011.600553.

Bartholomew, Meg. 2017. “Public Art: The Feel-Good Hit That Makes Us Linger – And Spend Money.” The Guardian, 20 June.

Conklin, Tiffany Renee. 2012. “Street Art, Ideology, and Public Space.”
Master’s Thesis, Portland State University.

Daichendt, James, G. 2013. “Artist-Driven Initiatives for Art Education: What We Can Learn from Street Art.” Art Education 66 (5): 6-12.

Feldman, Marcos. 2011. “The Role of Neighborhood Organizations in the Production of Gentrifiable Urban Space: The Case of Wynwood, Miami’s Puerto Rican Barrio.” PhD Thesis. Florida International University.

Florida, Richard. 2003. The Rise of the Creative Class. North Melbourne: Pluto Press Australia.

Merrill, Samuel. 2015. “Keeping it Real? Subcultural Graffiti, Street Art, Heritage and Authenticity.” International Journal of Heritage Studies: 369-389. doi: 10.1080/13527258.2014.934902.

Okano, Hiroshi, and Danny Samson. 2010. “Cultural Urban Branding and Creative Cities: A Theoretical Framework for Promoting Creativity in the Public Spaces.” Cities 27: 10-15.

Schacter, Rafael. 2014. “The Ugly Truth: Street Art, Graffiti and the Creative City.” Art & the Public Sphere 3 (2): 161-176. doi: 10.1386/aps.3.2.161_1.

Visconti, Luca M., John F Sherry Jr., Stefania Borghini and Laurel Anderson. 2010. “Street Art, Sweet Art? Reclaiming the ‘Public’ in Public Place.” Journal of Consumer Research 37 (3): 511-529. doi: 10.1086/652731.