Trying to define street art isn't easy, mostly because the definition depends on who you ask. People in law enforcement consider it a crime and city government call it a nuisance. The director of Los Angeles MOCA has deemed it worthy of its own exhibition.
Ask Alfie Dennen, the British creative technologist behind the startup Big Art Mob (currently in beta), and he'll tell you that at the very least, the definition needs expanding.
"Under the [UK’s] legal definition the only art that can ever be considered public are architecture or works that have been created through an institutional hierarchy," Dennen says. He defines public art a bit more broadly: "Any work in public view created by a person or group whose aim was to create what they believe to be art, irrespective of genre or style."
Launching publicly next week, the Big Art Mob app and accompanying website aim to expand awareness and appreciation of public art by inciting users to upload pictures of it in all forms—graffiti, tagging, public art, and institutional art. These images are then integrated into a user friendly map and a unique bank of well-categorized metadata.
Dennen, whose body of creative work combines technology and mass collaboration, says the Big Art Mob concept is different from most startups—its focuses on creating a "point-of-interest data base."
"Most startups say 'this is my commercial model and we will have ongoing revenues of x,' but we have a much more complex position on what it's eventual and current value is," Dennen said. "[Big Art Mob] combines elements of public utility and documentation around art in a way which isn’t directly commercially exploitable."
While the app and website are designed for international use, the rich tradition and appreciation of street art in London makes it a fitting birthplace. Some local councils in the UK, particularly those in the capital, are taking a progressive stance when it comes to street art clean-up, such as only removing a work deemed offensive. Dennen hopes that a wide user base of his app will serve as proof for why local governments should invest in, rather than shun, art in the public realm.
"We have a global treasure in public art," said Dennen. "Part of that is the ephemerality of street art and graffiti and we should capture that because we can, because now is the digitized future. We have a responsibility to do that."