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5Pointz

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About the Artist/Site

The Institute of Higher Burnin’ is a five-story 200,000 square foot former water meter factory that has become a center for aerosol artists to showcase their work.  Named 5Pointz because the site brought together artists from all five boroughs of New York City, over the past decade the warehouse building has attracted street artists from around the country and around the globe. Around 1,000 artists a year contribute pieces to the building. Everything in sight is bathed in spray paint, from the ceilings to the floors to the garbage cans.

The old warehouse takes up a block along Jackson Avenue and Davis Street in Long Island City, Queens, and may be seen in an aerial view when riding the No. 7 subway that runs directly overhead. The 5Pointz building houses the Crane St. Studios, which hosts about 200 artists in affordable studios at below-market prices.  Landlord Jerry Wolkoff has allowed the graffiti to grace the building’s exterior walls to encourage street artists to legitimately display their work without risking arrest.

A group of artists called the Phun Phactory, founded by Pat DiLillo, started the 5Pointz project in 1993. Phun Phactory began as Graffiti Terminators, a project DiLillo started earlier to clean up graffiti and combat vandalism in his Woodside neighborhood. To balance these clean-up efforts, DiLillo also wanted to provide a space for aerosol artists to legally showcase their pieces, so the murals and tags they created could be appreciated as art and not viewed as vandalism. Normally, the work created by aerosol artists is limited because artists work in fear of being punished by law authorities. The 5Pointz gives aerosol artists the opportunity to create more high-concept pieces because they can dedicate weeks to their production. 

Jonathan Cohen, known by his tag “Meres One,” took over from the Phun Phactory in 2002 as the volunteer supervisor, but he regards his position as both a full-time occupation and a labor of love. Anyone who wants to paint sends Meres a project proposal and images of sample work. Although the approach is egalitarian, Meres curates the artwork and regulates the amount of time a painting remains on the walls: some pieces stay up a few hours, while others may stay up a whole year. Cohen tries to dissuade onlookers from calling the pieces graffiti or tags, as graffiti denotes vandalism, and tags bring to mind gang markings. He prefers to describe the work at the 5Pointz as a street version of calligraphy and murals.

Although owner Wolkoff originally made the affordable studio space available inside and the street art outside in order to give back to the community, as of August 2013 he and son David gained approval from the Planning Commission of New York City to build a pair of luxury condos on the 5Pointz site. The Wolkoffs plan on capitalizing on the neighborhood’s ongoing gentrification, as the area transitions from an out-of-the-way industrial enclave to a hip arts district. The Wolkoffs were given permission to build the high-end residential towers after promising to build affordable housing units for low-income seniors and veterans and inexpensive artist studios, but there is no indication of any future support for the 5Pointz.

Curator Jonathan Cohen hopes to gain 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status to turn the 5Pointz into a graffiti museum so that the site will survive demolition and continue as a school for aerosol artists and a museum for street art history. However, at the time of this writing, its future is uncertain.

Update 8/28/15: In November 2013 all of the paintings were whitewashed overnight, and within a year the building had been demolished and excavation started for the new office buildings that will rise on that site. A group of artists brought suit against the Wolkoffs under the Visual Artists Rights Act; the Brooklyn judge who heard the case, Fredric Block, noted that certain of the artists would qualify for protection under the act, since they have received “recognized stature.” Action is pending (JFH). 

~Irene Rible



Map and site information

Not Exact Address
New York, New York, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 40.744679 / -73.948542

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