Making a mark: an online map by students at University of Economics highlights Prague’s best street art

Photo: Official website of the Artspotting project

In today’s Arts Jan Velinger talks to Nicole Princlová, one of the people behind artspotting, an interactive online project highlighting Prague’s street and public art.

Photo: Official website of the Artspotting project
I began by asking Nicole how she came up with the idea.

“The idea began as a university project. All of us involved are students, I am in the third year of my Bachelors at Prague’s University of Economics and we had to come up with a project we could work on together over the course of a semester. I came up with the idea for, mapping street art in Prague, and my colleagues liked it so we ran with it.”

Would you say Prague is “rich” in street art?

“I think so. It was something which came to my mind after spending time in New York City, specifically in the Williamsburg/Bushwick area in Brooklyn, which is very rich in street art. There, I was able to google a very simple map with pins referencing different sites, and I was able to see some really great work. When I returned home I tried to do the same in Prague. And learned there was no such map. So the idea was, why not? Prague is a historic city but is too has a different side: one where street art and urbanistic elements are alive. But you wouldn’t know much about just by googling, not in the form of a simple map for free that anyone could use on their device. That’s what we set out to create.”

Photo: Official website of the Artspotting project
When we communicated by email, you made a point of saying that you weren’t experts on street or public art; nevertheless, there must be names that come up repeatedly, some who are well-established or well-known. Could we discuss a few?

“Sure. Some well-known artists whose work is featured on the map include Pasta Oner, Jan Kaláb, David Černý… When we opted to make the map we decided to focus on well-known spots and authors and then work outwards from there, to lesser-known or artists.”

Does the map, for example, feature a famous sidewalk near Letná by Jan Kaláb in Prague 7?

“It is also included. I think it is a very nice but also controversial work. It is a public space owned by the city…”

Which he painted without a permit…

“That’s right.”

Photo: Official website of the Artspotting project
Effectively what he did was paint these different shapes along the cracks, filling them in with different arrays of blues, greens, pinks… My son, for example, loves it as do a lot of people I spoke to. But of course the artist received a fine, the city was unhappy about it.

“There is an illegal aspect to street art, yes. But it also brings up issues, social questions. By painting or filling parts of the sidewalk, Kaláb was also highlighting the actual poor state of the sidewalk, in what terrible shape it was and the question why aren’t things like that fixed. Street art can have more than one message. It can be illegal but it can also bring up issues about the area or the public space in general.”

What parts of the city are included in the map?

“We started with the city centre but the map has grown. Just a few days ago we added Prague 11 – a southern part of Prague… sites where there are a lot of transformer stations…”

I suppose a lot of concrete underpasses as well…

“Exactly. Some really good new work is being found there. It is a bit gritty as an area but some of this work makes it less rough.”

A pet peeve of mine – and of many fans of street art – is when a really good work is scribbled over by amateurs and their tags… Do you find this frustrating?

Photo: Official website of the Artspotting project
“Yes, I do. I can think of one example, another work by Jan Kaláb near Vltavská metro station. Someone spray-painted a question over it asking why he spray-painted over someone else’s work. And it looks really ugly. It ruined his piece. That said, it is a public space and if you are involved in street art you kind of have to accept that this can happen.”

To come back to the project: what do visitors see when they visit?

“Right now there is a homepage with some basic text about the project. It is in Czech but soon we will have English as well. Under the text is the actual map with pins and if you click on it the light-box comes up.”

With photos…

“With photos, with a short description, with the name of the work and the author, if known, and of course the address. We are working on a new system which would allow users to add their own sites and we are working on a mobile phone app.”

So this isn’t something which ends with the end of the school year: you’ve gotten it off the ground.

“Yes. When we set out to do this we wanted something which would last longer, we want to map and update changes and we really want this to continue.”