In 2012, a stencil piece by Blek le Rat in Leipzig was granted protected status and classified as a historical monument. Meanwhile, in Banksy's hometown of Bristol, measures were being taken by the mayor to preserve the city's rich street art heritage. Given that a beloved Banksy piece became rubble just a few days ago, however, it's evident that government measures aren't quite enough. Today in Athens, a group of conservators are taking street art preservation into their own hands.
The st.a.co. team—short for Street Art Conservators—has been active since 2013 and now contains over a dozen core members. They identify pieces to be protected around their city, lay out a conservation strategy, and go out into the field. Some are formally trained in conservation, holding down day jobs in art and educational institutions or independent labs, while many are currently students (the team even includes one high school student with a keen interest in conservation).
Many members met while they were still undergrads at the
Technological Educational Institute of Athens
. Four years ago, during a class on the conservation of mixed-media paintings, they learned about the conservation of graffiti, public murals, and street art. "In collaboration with the professor, we decided to try and conserve street art
. This is how everything got started," they explain.
Once a week, st.a.co. members get together to plan out their next project. "We don't exactly choose the artworks we want to work on; mostly the artworks in danger call us for help!" comments the group, adding that they "do not encourage and do not curate illegal street art" (in other words, any pieces that are posted on historical, archeological, or otherwise culturally significant sites). To tend to emergency cases, they usually carry around a "street art conservator's first aid kit."
Working outdoors can be challenging: weather and time constraints are limiting, to say the least. The team has learned to work quickly. As for financial resources, they get creative, sourcing some of their materials from their alma mater, who has agreed to help out, or seeking out donations. Greek spray paint manufacturer Urban Factory, for example, donated some colors to their palette. The rest of their work, however, is self-funded.
So how do the artists themselves feel about all this? "While, at first, artists were suspicious of our team and its intentions, gradually, they trusted us," they explain. Those relationships have become vital to everyone's success: "For example, street artists tell us what kind of glue they used for a piece of art. In turn, we share our knowledge of materials with them."