Demolition of the graffiti mecca known as “5Pointz” in Long Island City, Queens has become a flashpoint in New York City development. The iconic arts institution was literally whitewashed by the developer last spring and has since been turned to rubble to make way for two rental towers. As the controversial project continues in Queens, the destruction of another world-renowned graffiti forum, just a few miles away in the South Bronx, has gone largely unnoticed.
The graffiti-covered walls of Boone Avenue are currently being demolished to make way for a massive housing development. For decades, some of the world’s most respected street artists came to this desolate, industrial stretch, turning warehouses into canvases. The result was a constantly-evolving public gallery, curated by Cope2, a living legend in the street art world. But, let’s be clear, this is not the same story as 5Pointz—the new development will not be luxury towers, but much-needed affordable housing. Still, the loss of a cultural institution is the loss of a cultural institution.
Since the city broke ground on the development, a coalition of artists, architects, and students has formed to preserve as much of the site’s history as it can. The project is called The Boone Room and its being run by SLO Architecture, the Bronx River Art Center, and students from Fannie Lou Hamer High School in the Bronx, and The New School in Manhattan.
Last spring, students conducted video interviews with local artists and photographed existing work as part of an online exhibition that will go live in January. To create new, permanent street art in the neighborhood, artists, under the curatorship of Cope2, were commissioned to paint an interior wall of the Fannie Lou Hamer High School. The team behind The Boone Room has also worked with the developer to preserve some of Boone Avenue’s colorful, roll-down gates which are being repurposed into a canopy for a performance space outside of the Bronx River Art Center.
When AN recently visited Boone Avenue, local artist and resident David Yearwood, was working on what’s known as Boone Avenue’s “practice wall.” (This wall is expected to be demolished by a later stage in the development.) “Doing art in the neighborhood is a hard thing to do,” said Yearwood. “I’ve got a lot of friends that don’t like art, so you’ve got to find things to do get out of the neighborhood.”
So Boone Avenue is where Yearwood comes, almost every single day. Finding somewhere else like Boone won’t be easy. “It’s basically a rough life right now for a lot of people,” he said. “There’s nowhere else to go.”