The Best Public Street Art Galleries

Street art is a colorful scene that has no rules other than it should live outside. Born from graffiti, street art’s canvas is essentially the city itself. From murals to tags, street art needs to live and breathe in the public space. It is meant to be seen and consumed by ordinary people for free, not imprisoned on a gallery wall where only the privileged are privy to it. The beauty of this Urban Contemporary Art Movement (as some call it) is that it has no center either. You can’t go anywhere in the world without seeing it in pop culture, politics or maybe just a bus stop. So pack up your bags and charge up your phone, we’re going on a cross-country trip to America’s most Instagrammable public art galleries.

New York City, NY
New York City is the mecca of street art since it’s where graffiti was born in the early 1970s. Graffiti crews would transform subway cars to moving canvases, giving a voice to the voiceless of the inner city youth. As their fame and notoriety grew, their “acts of vandalism” evolved into a highbrow art form when Andy Warhol took “street vandals” like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring under his wing or wig (if you will). Today, much of that Golden Age of graffiti can only be seen in coffee table art books like The History of American Graffiti, but you can still catch a few remnants and definitely some descendants of graffiti greats like Dondi, Taki 183 and Lee Quinones in the Lower East Side and Bowery areas of Manhattan. A walking tour may sound lame, but Graff Tours is actually legit. The tour guides are often street artists themselves who will explain the difference between paste-ups, stencils, murals, stickers and graffiti, while leading you across the hallowed ground and into newer spots like the Bushwick Collective, an outdoor street gallery that begins on Jefferson Street and continues through Troutman Street. Although the iconic 5 Pointz mural factory was torn down to make room for condos, the recently installed Coney Art Walls eases the pain of the that loss. Located in the heart of of the world-famous Amusement Park, it was curated by former MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch and includes the work of D*Face, Ron English and Lady Pink.

Los Angeles, CA
If there’s one challenger to New York City’s “All City” crown it’s gotta be LA. With more wide open spaces and revitalized downtown areas, the city has even embraced mural projects. You can find many of these works across the downtown Arts District, which is covered in oversized works from hometown heroes like Mr. Cartoon, David Choe and Retna. The days of Melrose being “the place” to shop have gone the way of CDs, but like most Angelenos, the once-famous Hollywood block has remade itself. Millennials now come here to take selfies, while dodging traffic. The nature of street art is to constantly evolve and eventually disappear, so you never know which international artist’s work you’re going to see along the busy stretch from La Brea to Robertson, but past works have been done by Banksy, Hush and Colette Miller.

Detroit, MI
One of the few bright spots to the Motor City being broken down these past few decades has been the rising art movement. Drawing 275,000 visitors annually, The Heidelberg Project is the brainchild of urban environmental artist, Tyree Guyton, who has drawn attention to the suburban flight and current plight of Detroit’s forgotten neighborhoods. Spanning two city blocks on the once-bustling lower east side, the art installation features rows of dying homes, which have been given a makeover with bright dots or salvaged items (like stuffed animals). The 25-year plus social art experiment has been heralded as Detroit’s Ghetto Guggenheim, yet has faced the constant threat of being torn down after some arson fires and urban planning developments. Try to plan around a trip around the second annual Murals in the Market (Sept. 19-24). The nine-day public arts festival in the historic Eastern Market area, features panels, workshops and live art paintings. This year’s artist list includes Hueman, Alex Yanes and Miss Van.

Austin, TX
Austin is best known for barbecue, music and beer, but don’t sleep on the street art scene. The fresh air of the Hope Outdoor Gallery is the perfect hangover cure after a long night out. Peruse the painted park in downtown Austin and work off those breakfast tacos, while taking in the large scale art pieces colored with inspirational, positive and educational messaging. Although you aren’t permitted there after dark, the non-profit’s unique “open mic” or in this case “open nozzle” policy allows you to join in on the aerosol fun if you provide a sketch, don’t go over anyone else’s work and are over 18.

Wynwood Walls in Miami, FL
What began as a few commissioned murals during Art Basel to add some new life to a decaying warehouse district has evolved into a virtual Disneyland for street art fans. Boasting over 70 galleries, five museums, three collections, seven art complexes, 12 art studios and five art fairs, Wynwood’s Walls have showcased some of the biggest names in New Contemporary Art like Shepard Fairey, Aiko and Futura. There’s a lot to see and the numerous bars and restaurants along the way to slow you down, but the best way to explore the neighborhood is during the bi-monthly Art Walk (every second Saturday) or the always-hot Art Basel international art fair (Dec. 1-4). Regardless, it’s always free and open to the public.