Meet Monica Campana. Co-founder of Living Walls, a nonprofit that seeks to promote, educate, and alter perspectives about public spaces through the language of street art, she’s a tireless advocate for positive change. Here, Campana discusses the many difficult and exciting aspects of Living Walls’ origin and future.
It started about four years ago. There was a realization that spontaneous art could make a difference in someone’s life and in your city. The methods that the artists were using could relate a lot to how city planners or urbanists think. In our first year we held lectures about our work and had about 18 murals being done.
After that it just kept growing. We have year round programming. We do workshops, lectures, gallery exhibits, pop-up shops and of course we still do murals. The conversation has gotten the attention of city officials, different arts organizations, and even around the United States and the world.
Our first year I had a very small trajectory in street art. People assumed we were uninformed about graffiti because none of the bigger artists were getting involved. But once the first conference happened things changed. We have gotten all kinds of artists involved. Even though they know we can give them very little they are okay with it because they have heard good things. We have built a great reputation in the street-art world globally.
At first we were working with the private wall owners, and then the neighborhood, and now that the city is aware we have to work with the city. There are a lot of official steps to go through to get street art created legally. Community engagement is another challenge altogether. I realized that public art is very political. We have realized that bringing outsiders into a community to create art can be difficult. How much of a say can an artist have on someone’s public space when they don’t live there? How much can a neighborhood say on what the artist wants to do? And when do we find the balance?
I don’t have those answers, but I know for a fact that I don’t want to produce safe art. I don’t see myself any time soon painting kids of every race holding hands with rainbows in the back. That’s not what Living Walls does. But I also don’t want for us to be the organization that lets an artist from Spain paint something in a community without even really understanding where this person is. Its a balance that we need to understand.
As a community organization, and as a community member if you want to create a change because you think your neighborhood needs it, you should take action and come up with a solution. I don’t think that people should rely on bigger groups, bigger companies, government entities to try to create changes. The solutions may annoy or upset people, but the thing is, at least there’s something that happened, there’s a conversation, at least someone out of the thousands that live around you might have paid attention. And then keep going with the project. I would rather keep doing what I’m doing and failing at some points as long as I don’t stop doing it. Living Walls is all about organic growth.
Interview and Photography by Jason Travis