And then came 2006

Wooster Collective and Ekosystem both continued to grow, and things began to heat up for street art in 2006. With Banksy’s LA warehouse show Barely Legal and Wooster Collective’s 11 Spring Street installation both happening that year, there was an unprecedented public interest in street art. Over the preceding years super-fans of the culture like the Schillers had become as embedded into the street art community as the artists themselves. But unlike many of the artists, particularly the elusive and extremely popular Banksy, the Schillers were not anonymous; they had a public email address.

During 11 Spring Street, Wooster Collective was getting attention from mainstream press, which, for a street art website, was new. When they began, street art sites like Ekosystem, Stencil Revolution and Wooster Collective were sites for the street art community. Especially after 11 Spring Street, Wooster Collective became a site that anyone with a passing interest in edgy design might want to bookmark. The Schillers went from well-respected fans of street art who shared their taste with others to the people distributing street art imagery to the world. More blogs appeared over the years, but none have surpassed Wooster Collective’s popularity. Although the Schillers have slowed their posting in recent years, they still define street art for many readers.

2006 was also the year that Flickr left beta. Street art photos had been uploaded to Fotolog, Photobucket and other precursors to Flickr, but Flickr eventually became the dominant place for amateur photographers to post their work. Free users on Flickr can upload up to one terabyte of photos and videos (previously, Flickr allowed free users to upload up to 200 photographs, and paying users could upload unlimited uploads of photos and videos for $24.95 per year). Myspace and Facebook were designed for sharing photos primarily among friends, but Flickr was always designed to be more of a public-facing photo repository with most images available to be viewed by anyone visiting the site, making it the choice for photographers who want to show their work to a larger audience.

With occasional exceptions, street artists working before 2006 or so generally had to document their own work or get their friends to document it for them. The photographs that were taken often ended up hidden in shoeboxes. Largely thanks to Flickr, the number of easily accessible photos of street art and graffiti went from perhaps a few thousand to millions.

Finally, two online messages boards were founded in 2006: The Banksy Forum and the forum at The Giant. There had been online forums to discuss street art before such as Australia’s Stencil Revolution, which was important for connecting artists and sharing stenciling knowledge around the world, but The Banksy Forum and The Giant forum were the first major online forums for street art focused on discussions among fans rather than among artists. These fan forums helped build the community of fans and collectors that many street artists would come to depend upon financially. The forums are places for the discussion of new work both on the streets and in galleries, and their conversational nature resulted in harsh critiques of artists as well as earnest efforts to promote good street art. At their best, the forums provide places for anyone interested in street art to converse with one another on an equal footing. At their worst, anonymous individuals posting on the forums can make or break careers and lead to vicious arguments between people with undisclosed financial stakes in their opinions. Whereas Flickr is for photographers and running a blog requires some regularity in posting, forums are a place for typical street art fans to express their thoughts.

Forums, Flickr and blogs formed the initial street art communication network online. The network was really just a loose collection of sites run by a couple of random fans and visited by a variety of people, some dedicated regulars and some just passing through. Some commented on every forum, blog and Flickr album they could find while others only checked in on one site. Some people knew each other in real life; others have stayed anonymous behind a screen name or just observed silently. Despite a lack of formal organization, information moved across the network, with photos traveling from Flickr to blogs, and forum posts being echoed by bloggers. This crossover also occurred less formally, with active participants in one arena acting as silent observers in another.

Through these websites, a loose community began to form. For the first time, street art fans could easily communicate with one another regardless of geographic proximity. The network fed itself, with these sites making it easier for people to discover street art and, in turn, increasing street art’s popularity, which generated more content.

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