This piece of art is not only an extension of the artist’s vision and hipster
culture, it also advertises for the business usually on the interior or around
the corner. This multifaceted art piece on Bedford Avenue and North 7th Street was created by Misha T, a Brooklyn based artist himself as an intersection of local culture and
commercial business. The mural was designed for both the Dunkin Donuts as well
as the GroundSwell Community Mural Project and blends pop culture with social
satire. Depicting wide eyed and grinning animals colored in brown, white and
gold sitting down and having coffee, the piece speaks to the laid back and
friendly neighborhood of Williamsburg as well as a commercial advertisement for
Dunkin Donuts coffee.
Once known as an artisanal, hipster, and inexpensive alternative to the city, Williamsburg has undergone a drastic transformation from a neighborhood that was once at the forefront of the graffiti movement to a mecca of high priced real estate. It has transitioned from a traditionally working-class Jewish, Italian and Polish neighborhood into one of America’s poster children for urban renewal and gentrification with ethnic enclaves of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Hasidic Jews.
In its history as Brooklyn neighborhood since its purchase in 1792, many starving artists and 20-30 year old hipsters have joined the majority of Italian and Polish immigrants by taking advantage of former factories, which have been turned into lofts and their very cheap rents.
But Williamsburg’s newest residents are no longer starving as the city has become quite marketable and expensive with the addition of art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants along with a revival in the real estate industry. The rezoning of Williamsburg in May of 2005 created new and improved high- rise buildings, condominiums, waterfronts, and state parks. These new renovations and improvements to city with the changing face of the neighborhood has raised the cost of living in Williamsburg and is reflected in many aspects of the city’s culture, especially its art. Williamsburg’s street art has changed along with the neighborhood over time.
Before its gentrification, Williamsburg was a city plagued by gang rivalry, as there was tension between racial groups such as the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans who resided in the area. And in addition because neither business nor any kind of tourism was flourishing in the area, crime took it place and what was left in the city was the starving artists who were grateful for the dirt cheap rent in lofts and the freedom to tag up all the abandon factory buildings that made up Williamsburg. The presence of graffiti art was a symbol of an unsuitable place to live so as the city’s standard of living skyrocketed and it became beautified by its newest residents, so did its art evolving from the indecipherable sprawling of graffiti tagups to mural-esque pieces funded by city art projects.
Step right outside off the Bedford Avenue stop on the L train and you will be engrossed by graffiti art, but now it is a cleaner and more marketable version. The tags and stickups that were once sprawled on the walls have now been replaced with more appeasing public art so that any visitor can visual the community as a whole by just glancing at its walls. As Williamsburg found itself with a demand for newer upper class residents, tourists, restaurants, and music, the graffiti art commonly seen in the area was now in demand for a new type that situated around artistic skill.
While the original purpose of tagging graffiti was to simply get as much recognition by being in as many places as possible, this newfound existential and piecing graffiti is about representing the ideas and culture of the area. Pieces like the mural here on the exterior of Dunkin Donuts act as a business advertisement and are an example of existential graffiti, which draws on the particular experiences of coffee drinkers in the neighborhood and their custom of chatting with other members of the community over coffee.
When chatting with locals in the neighborhood, many expressed their anger and dismay with the iconic and ubiquitous chain store opening directly outside the L train. The big business of coffee and donuts clashes with the small and pricier independent brewers and shops of the neighborhood. Many locals find the franchise strange to see and out of place in their little community that is supposed to be a change in pace from the bustling city. They worry that the very thing that made the neighborhood great, its authenticity, will soon fade and it will just another neighborhood cast away in the shadows of million-dollar condominiums. In an attempt to fit in with the scene of the neighborhood, Dunkin’ Donuts installed an old-fashioned wooden sign. Another endeavor to blend in with the artistic feel of Williamsburg is this mural piece, which was contracted by local artists.
Williamsburg resident Shane Armstrong, spoke about the perks of murals as the newest form of graffiti art. “ There’s a lot of paid murals, so the artist themselves have been paid, which is cool so they don’t have to break the law. There’s a lot of murals going up and it’s a lot cleaner over here.” Compared to South Williamsburg, which stills hold onto its real and authentic graffiti-covered warehouses, and is still home to a large amount of the original Hasidic and Hispanic population. This Dunkin Donuts mural envisions the Northern Williamsburg after its divide. The community depicted here is reflective of the historical Italian and Polish immigrants. A prime example of a luxurious development in Northern Williamsburg, the mural of Dunkin’ Donuts looks unfavorably similar to Manhattan’s East Side and the mural is Williamsburg’s stake in still claiming it as a unique artist’s neighborhood in which the authenticity of graffiti art but the commonality and attractiveness of its gentrification prevails.