The best way to experience STRAAT is to visit this magical place in person. But if you haven’t been there yet – or even heard of it – allow me to help you get familiar. The giant space STRAAT calls home is located in arguably the most beautiful place in the whole of Amsterdam: the NDSM terrain. The NDSM was once one of Europe’s biggest wharfs. But after the oil crisis of the late 1970s, it quickly became a forgotten industrial no man’s land. And while “forgotten industrial no man’s land” might sound scary to some, it also screams fertile ground for creatives, party people, and graffiti artists. In the past ten years, the NDSM terrain has transformed into a legendary graffiti hall of fame, a creative hotspot, and a popular festival location. It was the ideal place to open a museum dedicated exclusively to street art and graffiti. And it only takes one free ferry ride from Amsterdam’s Central Station to get there.
Once you’ve made your way to Amsterdam’s North Side, prepare to be wowed. From Cornbread to Cranio, from SJK 171 to Buff Monster, STRAAT is home to an impressive collection of different styles and subgenres in street art and graffiti. The current collection consists of over 160 artworks created by more than 150 different artists. Virtually all of these artworks were created onsite, without any instructions or restrictions. And with new artists constantly being invited over, the collection is ever-growing and you have a solid chance of catching amazing artists live in action when visiting STRAAT.
In recent months, artists such as Galo, Kayla Mahaffey, Carlos Ramirez, HERA of Herakut, Hush, KEO, NeSpoon, Remi Rough, Tony van Amsterdam, Michelle Hoogveld and Bisco Smith have contributed to the STRAAT collection. These contributions have come in different forms, including canvases as large as 30 x 16 ft, as well as lace installations and light boxes. The biggest canvas at STRAAT measures a whopping 49 x 23 ft, and was painted by Dutch duo Studio Giftig last summer. The giant Anne Frank portrait on the outdoor walls of STRAAT, which pulls you towards the museum as soon as the ferry starts docking, tops them all. This beauty, painted by Brazilian powerhouse Kobra in 2016, covers a giant steel door that measures 79 x 33 ft.
The enormous sizes of the artworks is a part of the museum’s history. Before STRAAT, the welding warehouse hosted a well-known flea market in Amsterdam, the IJ-hallen, which is still going strong on other parts of the NDSM terrain. The organization behind the flea market figured it would be a good idea to bring in local artists from the outdoor graffiti hall of fame to add some decorations to the market experience. After the first go, the decision was made to go bigger – considering the size of the building, the sky was the limit. After a few editions of going bigger, a nice collection started to form, and by the end of 2015, the idea was born to really go all-in on opening a museum dedicated exclusively to street art and graffiti.
While there were some bumps in the road – a roof deemed unsafe, COVID-19, and more – STRAAT officially opened its doors on October 9th, 2020. It’s evident this rather young museum is doing quite well. More than 120,000 visitors in 2022 have had a taste of street art in a museal setting done right. A big part of “keeping it street” comes down to the building. The 26,000 sq. ft warehouse has been granted monumental status, which means that even if STRAAT wanted to, it couldn’t replace the industrial backdrop with a more futuristic, pristine white cube minimalist setting. But it is exactly this combination of industrial setting and giant canvases – the closest you can get to a mural experience in a museum space – that allows STRAAT to connect the public art movement and the fine arts world.
There is more to STRAAT than just looking at giant artworks. First and foremost, there is a lot of information available, not just on the artworks, but also on the history of the culture – an essential aspect of the still quite oxymoronic concept of the street art museum. This sharing of information even continues beyond the walls of the museum. Check, for instance, the STRAAT YouTube channel or the impressive online Collection database. The museum also organizes guided tours if you need a sparring partner to bounce all your street art questions off of, as well as workshops for those that need some spraycan assistance and/or stencil cutting support. There is a cafe and a museum shop, as well as a panorama deck that offers a stunning view of the exhibition. A few times a year, STRAAT also opens after hours for STRAATSTUKKEN (street pieces), giving visitors the chance to enjoy the magic of STRAAT in the evening time with live performances by both visual artists and musicians.
In the end, STRAAT is a museum first. Art is always the main focus. This also becomes apparent in the in-house STRAAT Gallery, the more intimate white mezzanine gallery space, located inside the massive main hall. Currently on show is the traveling group exhibition ‘Direction | Instruction’, featuring more than 30 contemporary artists from 11 countries, including Evan Hecox, Tony Sjöman, Hense and Cody Hudson. None of these artists qualify as “illustrative,” which seems to dominate the international mural genre these days. Instead, this exhibition celebrates abstraction, alternative materials, composition and language as counterpoint expressions. It is also the very first installment of this kick-ass show in Europe.
The impressive collection, the unique setting and location, and the tangible love for the culture STRAAT brings to the table make this museum an absolute must-visit for any street art lover. As stated, there’s only so much I can do with words here. To truly experience the magic of STRAAT, thou shalt take thy ass there!