In part three of our four-part series on the best cities for street art in America, we now take a look at the places worthy of a trip right now just for their graffiti cred alone. [Required reading: Best Cities in America for Street Art and Underrated Cities in America for Street Art.]
Many people have heard of Ben Franklin and the Liberty Bell, but considerably fewer are aware that graffiti’s original roots took hold in Philadelphia. Darryl McCray, known to many by his tag, Cornbread, is regarded as the first true graffiti writer. He and his friends started writing their names around Philly in the late 1960s and became tagging’s earliest practitioners. Today, the city bears the fruits of these early labors. Its streets and train tracks are an unparalleled visual experience.
Must-see murals: Isaac Tin Wei Lin’s gargantuan Start From Here, painted on the Church of Scientology at 1315 Race St. Shira Walinsky’s vibrant mural, Migrating Home, pays tribute to South Philly’s rich diversity, and can be found at 1000 Dickinson St. Phillip Adams’ Industrious Light: Leviathan Main Belting, which wraps the entire building at 1241 Carpenter St., tells a sweeping history of industry in Philly.
The Magic City is what local artist Nate Dee calls “a stopping point for the rest of the world.” Its effervescent array of cultures, all interacting under the year-round sun’s perpetual beams, means that Miami’s public art possesses a spectrum of subtleties hard to find elsewhere. “The art is varied from graffiti influenced to traditional muralism and everything in between,” Dee says. Miami’s streets betray a city of countless realities.
Must-see murals: Wynwood Walls is an enclosed collection of murals painted by world-class artists. The Miami attraction has become a cultural staple within the global street art community.
San Francisco hosts a rich history of Works Progress Administration (WPA) murals dating back to Victor Arnautoff’s 1936 mural at George Washington High School. Today, the Mission District hosts high concentrations of street art, especially in Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley. Recent visitor Maria Preira-Morel of Preira & Panton stayed in Chinatown and notes “The murals were part of the decor. They draw you in and make you feel part of the story they’re telling.”
Must-see murals: Australian artist Nychos brought his powerhouse talents to 1480 Haight St., where he painted an energetic wolf in his signature style. While technically inside, Diego Rivera’s Pan-American Unity mural, in the City College of San Francisco’s campus theater, is a must-see, considering its creator helped pioneer the muralism movement. An update on Rosie the Riveter titled No Ceiling by enigmatic outdoor artist Believe In People (BiP) at the intersection of Jesse and Mission Sts.
Come for the street art, stay for the history. Boston boasts a wide array of public art across its storied streets, ranging decades and styles. Alongside older works, the next generation of street art is still unfolding in Boston. The city’s recent project, Underground at Ink Block, has hosted two editions of its mural project and overseen the total of 18 new murals.
Must-see murals: The facade of the incredible Museum of Modern Renaissance is adorned in a dizzying, mystical rainbow by artists and museum co-founders Nicholas Shaplyko and Ekaterina Sorokina. Lilli Ann Killen Rosenberg’s 1979 work, Betances Mural, still stands in jewel-toned glory at the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts. Sneha Shrestha’s awe-inspiring For Cambridge With Love From Nepal towers over Cambridge’s Central Square.
Greensboro’s street art is booming as of late. In 2017, the city’s first municipal art project was organized by graphic designer and street artist Phillip Marsh of Rockers Print Shop. Marsh contracted Japanese-based artist DAAS to paint two installations on an eight-story parking deck. This year, developer Marty Kotis launched Kotis Street Art, which curates ambitious new works across the city. Portugal-based art duo BellaPhame painted with Kotis and said “they have such an amazing platform for artists to express their creativity. We also felt a really welcoming vibe from the local community and to hear their perspective about street art was really inspiring.”
Must see murals: Irish artist Aches’s impossibly stunning portrait of lawyer and civil rights activist J. Kenneth Lee, organized by Aches/Rockers Print Shop and on view at 503 East Washington Street. The model painted on Heraldy Arms by JEKS, both for the artist’s technical skill and the piece’s contentious history, which encapsulates several intricacies of the relationship between street art and the community it inhabits. Midtown’s RED Cinemas, owned by Kotis, consistently features high caliber productions, most notably Dan Kitchener’s tribute to Blade Runner 2049, painted in 2017.
The climate of this Pacific Northwestern city has allowed Portland’s sticker scene to erupt. This unique facet of street art is its most physically durable, and the nature of the medium allows clever, intricate designs to speckle every intersection. The arts scene here is more community-minded. Local artist Klutch says, “For the most part, there isn’t the cutthroat competition for walls that exists in larger cities.” Alberta Arts District and Central Eastside Industrial District are two artistically saturated neighborhoods, according to arts organization PSAA.
Must-see murals: Rustam Qbic’s celestial and surreal creation at 1005 SW Park Ave. The psychedelic deconstruction by Caratoes at 404 NW Everett St. An unsettling yet mystifying optical illusion painted by yoshi47 at 425 SE 11th Ave.
Considering the infamous, sinful glitz that characterizes the global perception of Las Vegas, it makes sense that this city houses the country’s most theatrical street art displays. Thenative graffiti writers of these storied streets have always gotten up, but new events like the Life Is Beautiful music festival bring international artists into the Vegas fold. The most famous large-scale works are concentrated downtown, but Vegas has an incredible street art scene just beyond its city limits, a desert with painterly treasures.
Must-see murals: Tristan Eaton’s Fear No Fate on boisterous view on the El Cortez Hotel & Casino’s facade at 600 E. Fremont St. An incredible three-dimensional mural by Felipe Pantone constructed on N. Seventh St. between Stewart Ave. and E. Ogden Ave. Aware’s disorienting, dreamlike creation titled The Wheel of Misfortune is a popular attraction located on private property at a potentially toxic mining site behind Laker Plaza and Lake Mead Boat Storage.
This Midwestern hub has thwarted convention since its inception; the city is split into two by the Missouri River, and each half occupies a separate state. However, it has achieved renown for its cultural expansion over recent years, which is visibly and beautifully reflected in its street art scene. The majority of Kansas’ public art is centered around the Crossroads district. SpraySeeMO Mural Festival facilitates fantastic new murals, drawing local talent alongside artists from across the globe.
Must-see murals: Jake Merten’s incredible anime homage at 2023 Washington St. Sebastian Coolidge’s minty optical illusion at the northeast corner of E. 18th St. and McGee St. Art Alley, close to the intersection of E. 17th St. and Locust St., hosts a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of paint.