On December 5th, 2019, the Museum of Graffiti opened its doors and became the first of it’s kind, a permanent exhibit showcasing the history of graffiti culture, from its early roots as a New York phenomenon of kids tagging their names across the city, to a global art movement.
Entering the museum, the space is designed as a chronological journey, beginning with early writers and tracing the evolution of graffiti style to the present day. The collection features both personal memorabilia and pieces on loan from esteemed figures such as Henry Chalfant. In addition to the carefully curated interior space, the museum features an array of graffiti production walls outside, a rotating exhibit, and a gift shop featuring exclusive collaborations.
These interviews have been edited for concision and clarity.
T.K. Mills: What led you and Alan to co-found the Museum of Graffiti?
Allison Freidin: I saw a void in our community, where Wynwood was saturated with incredible art, but there was very little context behind what you were seeing. There was a tremendous amount of graffiti on the walls, and really no place to learn about the artists themselves. As a member of our community, I thought, there should be a place in the neighborhood for education.
While I was having those feelings, it was somewhat serendipitous that I met Alan Ket. He’s been documenting, studying, writing books, and participating in the graffiti movement for 35 years. At the time I met him, he was director of the Goldman Global Arts Gallery, which is part of Wynwood Walls. When I met him, he talked about his dream of displaying and preserving and exhibiting art from the graffiti art movement. And I talked about my goals in education and public service and together we worked together to build this.
All of our cases feature really historic information. A lot of these are flyers from the 1980s. All of this memorabilia is really rare stuff. Unfortunately, a lot of graffiti archives are very unstable, sitting in people’s basements subject to floods, fires, or whatever, until we opened our doors. No one was really making an effort for preservation. And now we are working with FIU, Florida International University in an effort to digitize everything. That way it will be safe for generations to come.
“I saw a void in our community, where Wynwood was saturated with incredible art, but there was very little context behind what you were seeing. There was a tremendous amount of graffiti on the walls, and really no place to learn about the artists themselves. As a member of our community, I thought, there should be a place in the neighborhood for education.” – Allison Friedin
T.K. Mills: Did you have a background in the culture or was it Alan who introduced you to the graffiti world?
Allison Freidin: I met Alan because I was representing a graffiti artist. I’m an attorney, so I worked with artists who, for instance, might who have found themselves not being paid for their art, not being credited for their art, or having their copyright be violated. All those things. So I was working with an artist at the time and that’s how I met Ket. The rest is history.
T.K. Mills: Could you give me a little bit of background on yourself?
Allison Freidin: I’m third generation Miami. I think that that plays a big part in my desire to educate this particular community. My grandparents, my parents, and I, all grew up here. I worked in public service as an attorney. I also have worked in the private sector in corporate America, which led me to be able to assist in building a business like this, but my passion has always been in the arts, and helping those who whose voices need to be heard, in a different way, such as painters who express themselves through that. I use my words and as an attorney to assist those who express themselves in a more artistic way. When I can help them express themselves legally, it’s really something that I’m proud to be able to do.
T.K. Mills: What were some of the obstacles you guys had to overcome to put this all together?
Allison Freidin: In terms of real estate, finding a place was certainly a challenge. We were really lucky to have a landlord who understood the project, understood our vision and wanted to work with us. I think that one thing that we were really lucky is that we could call upon the graffiti community in order to help us. Our electrician is a graffiti artist. The head of our productions is a graffiti artist. Our printers are all graffiti artists. Everybody that we’ve worked with has something to do with the graffiti community. We basically put the word out there that we needed help and most people were just like, ‘how can I assist?’ and asked for really nothing in return. That was pretty special.
When you open a business, you have to be able to navigate a lot of issues with the city. That type of stuff is certainly challenging, especially when you want to open a graffiti museum. In addition to the interior museum, we have a mural program that consists of 12 exterior murals from artists around the world. And two of our artists were finishing up their walls one night. And they were unfortunately being stopped by the authorities and told that they needed a permit in order to paint the side of our buildings.
In Wynwood there is a cultural norm associated with painting and, that’s why this neighborhood has been so successful, and to be faced with somebody telling us we needed a permit at the 11th hour when this mural was been produced was a tough pill to swallow. But we are going abide by all the laws and everything we needed to do, despite the fact that graffiti’s roots are really in vandalism and a different type of attitude.
T.K. Mills: Could you elaborate on the ways in which Miami has transformed over the past decade?
Allison Freidin: One of my favorite activities is to show people what this building looks like 10 years ago. This building was whitewashed. There wasn’t a car in sight around. It was a very sleepy industrial neighborhood. It was more of a blue-collar neighborhood, a lot of factories and stuff like that. Those factories barely exist now because as the graffiti artists came in and made this area gorgeous and beautiful, you know, then came the masses. And unfortunately, you know, the rents went up and one day, the factories were booted out of here and relocated. And I’m sure there’s another area and soon that will be the next Wynwood.
T.K. Mills: Do you have any plans for expanding the exhibit?
Allison Freidin: Yes, we would love to. Right now you’re sitting in 3000 square feet. We would love to present this to you in a 12,000 square foot setting. We would also love to present this to the people of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas… Hopefully as we demonstrate through Basel our great proof of concept, we’ll get some great feedback and what will allow us to do that.
T.K. Mills: In what ways do you think the Museum of Graffiti distinguishes itself from exhibitions such as Beyond the Streets or Wynwood Walls?
Allison Freidin: At the Museum of Graffiti, it’s really about the educational aspect and providing context and history. I’ve been to both the Beyond the Streets (Los Angeles & New York), and I’ve been to Wynwood Walls. What we’re really aiming to do is provide that historical perspective and talk about the evolution of style writing.
The Museum of Graffiti really focuses on the graffiti artists in particular, whereas the Wynwood Walls and Beyond the Streets are incredible projects but include other street artists. Here, this is really more narrowly focused on graffiti history and the educational aspect.
“What we’re really aiming to do is provide that historical perspective and talk about the evolution of style writing.” – Allison Friedin
T.K. Mills: How did you first get involved in the graffiti world?
Alan Ket: I got into the graffiti world because I grew up in Brooklyn in the 80s. At the time, it was something all young boys did. Writing, learning how to ride a bike or to play baseball, or in that era, learning how to break dance.
So graffiti was part of coming up in the culture and coming up in that time. I grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I hung out in Bushwick when I was a kid. In that neighborhood, and many neighborhoods, it was it was part of life for kids. As a young teenager, I fell in love with it. The trains were beautifully painted. Unlike most kids that did it back in the day, and only did it for a summer, for one year, I became a lifer.
“I got into the graffiti world because I grew up in Brooklyn in the 80s. At the time, it was something all young boys did. Writing, learning how to ride a bike or to play baseball, or in that era, learning how to break dance.” – Alan Ket
T.K. Mills: Could you tell me a little bit about your personal journey from growing up and tagging on the streets to opening up the Museum of Graffiti?
Alan Ket: I painted for a long time through high school. Never really stopped. But at one point I decided, you know, I knew I had to get serious with my life. I went to college and studied communication arts and launched a magazine called Stress in 1995. It was an important hip hop publication. I ran that for many years. I was the editor and publisher and always included graffiti as one of the pillars of coverage along with politics and music and street culture.
After Stress, I went on to launch Complex magazine with Mark Echo. We always kept the art alive through those projects. Later I explored fashion. Around that time, after my magazine career sort of ended, I ended up launching a book publishing company with friends. I always knew that this art form was valuable and important, and I wanted to make sure that everybody knew the history and knew the people that were responsible for creating it. My career has led me through media, fashion, advertising and different aspects of art curation. It’s always been driven by the idea of pushing the art form forward.
T.K. Mills: How do you feel about the transformation and the societal shift in perspective toward graffiti, from vandalism to celebrated art form?
Alan Ket: I think it’s wonderful that there’s a shift that we’re being accepted more and more. In mainstream culture, it gives artists the opportunity to make a living off of it if they choose to. It also gives cities less desire to arrest us and lock us up. I think that people are starting to understand that this is a creative force in a world that’s for positivity, not for negativity.
We still have a long way to go. You know, cops are still killing kids. Many cities don’t respect it and see it as a stigma. But I think that there’s a lot of things that can be done to sort of continue to elevate this movement and, and cities need to get with the program. Artists need to learn how to work with the city. I love the outlaw side of things and artists shouldn’t be prosecuted the way they are. It’s a really terrible thing to try to break the human spirit. However, when these people adjust, the writers adjust, and you know, creative individuals that have a need to express themselves can find a place.
T.K. Mills: What do you think about sort of the commodification of the culture that comes with it mainstream acceptance?
Alan Ket: Hey man, ride the wave, get your money. It’s a new day, and there’s more opinions than assholes, you know?
It’s up to the individual. I think that people that commodify it should at the very least put in the work and really come from the culture to be able to commodify it. Cause otherwise you’re just really like a leech and a poser. So you put in the work and you want to make money, you know, I give it to you, but you have to put in the work.
“Hey man, ride the wave, get your money. It’s a new day, and there’s more opinions than assholes, you know?
It’s up to the individual. I think that people that commodify it should at the very least put in the work and really come from the culture to be able to commodify it. Cause otherwise you’re just really like a leech and a poser. So you put in the work and you want to make money, you know, I give it to you, but you have to put in the work.” – Alan Ket
The Museum of Graffiti is located at NW 25 Street, Miami, FL 33127, On the corner of NW 3rd Avenue and NW 25th Street in the heart of Wynwood and is open daily from 11am to 7pm.
T.K. Mills is an art journalist based in New York City. After receiving a Master’s Degree in Global Affairs, he discovered a love for graffiti while backpacking through Cuba. T.K. has written for several art publications including SOLD, Global Street Art, and Arte Fuse and runs the street art blog, Well Pleased We Dream. Beyond art, T.K. loves reading and traveling.