Brent Starck, co-owner of 339 Old Lyman St., which houses the Foundation Walls.
You could call it a ‘free wall’ area but there are rules
While the City of Asheville has worked diligently over the past two years to deter graffiti, a new agreement with a River Arts District property owner takes a different approach by providing space for outdoor muralists, also known as graffiti artists.
When Brent Starck and two partners recently acquired the property at 339 Old Lyman St., it was already heavily painted. And not just with murals, but with graffiti crew “tags.” These acronym tags usually represent various graffiti crews and you have seen them around town, such as one of the most prolific ones — MOMS, which stands for Marks on Most Surfaces.
Where the City saw graffiti, Starck saw art. And he balked at the idea of taking it all down. Instead, he worked with the City’s Legal Department and the Graffiti Appeal Committee to come up with rules that give street artists space to create wall art while also complying with the City’s Graffiti ordinance.
The project is called the Foundation Walls.
“You have to have permission to paint back here and we’re trying to be as inclusive as we can,” Starck said. “We’re also making sure that we’re including only those people who are respectful. I’m an artist myself so I’m not into censorship.”
While Starck said he’s in the process of “learning the graffiti culture,” there seems to be a process around how the street artists work together. “There’s definitely some form of informal agreement between these guys,” he said.
Walking through the site on a brisk winter day Starck often stopped to admire a new piece here or there. “You talk about color, the cool thing is it evolves,” he said. “In fact, I hadn’t even seen this entire wall; wow, there was some really neat stuff on that wall that just got painted over.”
Street artists represented at the site include Ishmael, VALET, RUINR, TRIDE and LORDS, a crew that originated in the San Francisco Bay area.
Starck sees graffiti tourists come through the property often enough. Even in buses. And he’s considering what might be done to develop or enhance what’s going on down there.
“The underlying project happening here is taking this 13-plus acres, all these buildings and restoring them to create a combination of artist space,” he said. “Ideally we’d like to get some food and maybe beer in the mix too.”
“I love the fact that Asheville citizens are finding creative ways to allow a space for murals and street art,” said Barbara Whitehorn, Asheville’s Chief Financial Officer who also chairs the Graffiti Appeal Committee. “As someone with an undergraduate degree in art history and an artist myself, I think the Foundation Walls represent the best of Asheville: embracing the graffiti culture while operating within parameters that City government and the community agree on.”
Foundation Walls rules
Starck is a partner in Foundation Studios LLC, which has set forth rules and regulations for the authorized painting of art, murals and graffiti style writing on the walls of the buildings at 339 Old Lyman St. in Asheville. The site is called the Foundation Walls. Here is a summary of the rules:
- A sign posted on the property will detail which buildings are approved for painting.
- All who wish to paint at the Foundation Walls gallery must obtain a permission slip from Foundation Studios.
- Permission slips must be present when painting.
- Hours of painting will be from sunrise to sundown.
- There will be rules for restricted content, such as content that depicts racism, hate, extreme violence, profanity or pornography.
There is a committee that serves as a liaison to the artists. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.