StreetCanvas is a service that beautifies Portsmouth and creates jobs for artists as it integrates art into the community.
Mike Teixeira, board president of Art-Speak (Portsmouth’s cultural commission), saw a point of weakness in the port city once known for tall ships and whales. “We were frustrated that public art seems to take so long to get done for public property like parks and municipal property and the light bulb went on,” says Teixeira. “We could fast track getting art in the city to reflect the real spirit of what’s going on here if we started getting property owners directly engaged.” So they did just that, creating a Craigslist-like website for muralists to connect with business owners in need of art.
This is how it works. First the building owner selects the indoor or outdoor wall that they want to upgrade. Once they’ve decided budget, dimensions, and timeframe, they post their wall on StreetCanvas. Artists can peruse the entries and when they find one that piques their interest, they can submit their ideas for the wall. The building owner selects their favorite submission and gets in touch with the artist directly to start the work.
Since StreetCanvas got its start in June 2017, three murals have been finished. Artist Dylan Haigh, a creative director (among other things) living in Portsmouth, gives StreetCanvas high praise… “I didn’t consider (street art) as something I could really do around here until this year and when StreetCanvas went up,” he says. “Ever since I watched the page like a hawk just waiting for the right wall.” The right wall manifested in the form of The Wilder, a new restaurant within walking distance of Haigh’s home. The idea of having a giant piece of his own art in his neighborhood was too exciting to pass up. “I had the benefit of knowing the folks who own the business. They had been familiar with what I do and they liked the general aesthetic so they told me to go nuts,” he says.
“A city like Portsmouth can get frozen in time,” says Teixeira. The port city is known for its historical elements but that’s no reason to get entrenched in the past. There are troves of artists from newer generations and StreetCanvas was created to give them a voice and protect Portsmouth from falling to the wayside. Why not integrate new art with the more traditional pieces that already live on the walls of Portsmouth?
While the StreetCanvas initiative has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the community, not every exchange between artist and business owner has been strife-free. “Some business owners and property owners came to the table with very specific ideas and unrealistic expectations and it has been an amazing learning curve of how to figure out how to mediate that kind of stuff,” says Teixeira. The nature of StreetCanvas encourages business owners who may not be particularly art-minded to think figuratively and step into the perspective of the artist to see how the process works on their end.
StreetCanvas is still young, but Teixeira has high expectations for its future. “I hope that this takes off, and it’s a place where business owners and artists can connect and create a bunch of cool financial opportunities for artists to get work on a regular basis for what they do.”