Street art goes corporate: Inside the "art first" approach to outdoor advertising

Street art drawing tourists and advertisers

NEW YORK -- In cities around the country, street art attracts those looking for the perfect selfie backdrop. They are grand and intricate, colorful and sometimes controversial. And increasingly, they're selling something.

Although advertising isn't often thought of as art, Paul Lindahl said what he does at Colossal Media is "art first." Lindahl is the co-founder of the Brooklyn-based firm, which may be the largest hand-painted advertisement company in the United States. Their clients include Samsung, Delta, Comedy Central and Nintendo. 

Lindahl said social media has helped take Colossal's work off the street corner and put it out there for everyone to see. "You're not maybe buying the location based on the traffic pattern on that specific street corner anymore -- now it's social media and being able to put out a message someone across the world might be able to see the work that you've done."

And that's important because outdoor art isn't easy to do.

Colossal Media

"We worked through the bomb cyclone, like we just pushed through that entire thing and we put something up on social media and showed the guys banging away while the wind was rushing by at 60 miles an hour and the snow was falling," said Lindahl.

Murals can be a big draw for tourists, like in Miami's Wynwood Arts District, where art breathed new life into a dying neighborhood.

Goldman properties CEO Jessica Goldman Srebnick curates the street art museum.

In 2009, she and her late father, Tony Goldman, opened the Wynwood Walls, transforming concrete into canvas, and blight into light.

"We have from no visitors to over a million visitors a year coming to the Wynwood Walls," said Srebnick. "You hear every language and so that to me is what makes for a vibrant beautiful neighborhood. I think the Wynwood Walls has done a beautiful job of democratizing the world of art and making it accessible to everybody."

Colossal Media

With an estimated 44 murals inside these walls, Srebnick said the area has the highest concentration of street art in the country.

"I think you're going to see so much more beautiful artwork, so much more public art, so much more art integrated into brands and products," said Srebnick. "And why not? It just makes life so much more exciting and interesting."

And for once-starving artists like Lindahl, it makes for good business.

"I found something that was really important and I really fell in love with it," said Lindahl. "I wanted to make a living and when we started the company that was the objective….but if you look at the company now, there's 80 of us. We paint more than 500 murals from New York to Los Angeles. We've got 401k plans, everybody's got every kind of dental plan. There's 80 people with families now that have their own reasons for being at Colossal and it's become something in its own self and that I think is worth fighting for."