Street art has always been one of the world’s most democratic forms of expressions; a great street artist can hail from anywhere in the world, and come from any walk of life.
But despite the explicitly public nature of the medium, celebrating street art has never been as egalitarian as the art itself—if you don’t live in a major metropolis with either the art house cinemas to air documentaries like Exit from the Gift Shop or the quasi-underground communities that incubate world-class talent, a layman’s own personal experience with the art might be limited to cursory Google Image searches and whatever tags happen to be on a passing train car.
Now, three Vancouver-based Americans have created an app called Curb meant to cultivate a digital community around the medium. Sam Wempe, Torin Kline, and Gary Yarbrough, to be known as Curb Industries, have been working on the app for two years and two months—Sam and Gary from the start, with Torin joining a short while later. While the release of this app was beset with delays, it’s difficult to argue that the delays didn’t lead to a more fully-fleshed app.
Curb functions as a street art aggregator. Users can search the database for street art based on either location, upload date or popularity. Once a piece has piqued their interest, a user can click through for the details they’re after, and participate in the community by liking, commenting, or sharing. Images are being uploaded from around the globe at a brisk pace—but not all images are created equal. The App Store would not host the app until there was flagging protocol instituted. And so there was.
Gary Yarbrough explained the delays thusly:
“In labelling ourselves as an app for street art, we’ve had to put out a definition for what that is. Already with the small group of testers we’ve been using, we’ve had people double-checking their submissions. What I tell them is that it’s up to them, though we have just installed a flagging feature so that if someone does decide to submit a photo of their cat—which is something that has already happened—it can be taken down. We also had to take down a photo of a tattoo someone had on their leg, because a leg is not a stationary thing.”
“You can flag things as inappropriate, which in this medium, we’ve got a Webster’s dictionary definition of inappropriate,” added Yarbrough. “Artistically sexual things are different from pornography. But no matter how it’s flagged, we three get notified, and we make the final call. The hope really is, with the liking feature, more attention will be drawn to the content that people really like.”
All three gentlemen see big things coming in the future of the app. The app is officially under Sam Wempe’s name on the App Store, but this will not be the case for long. Regrettably though, the app is currently iOS-exclusive. However, by the time it transcends that limitation, Curb will be a greatly expanded-upon application. All three gentlemen discuss the app with great enthusiasm and it’s easy to see why.
“Honestly, there’s so many ideas for what we can do what the content’s there, but this launch is our minimally-viable product, so that we can see what it is that there’ll be a demand for from our initial fanbase,” explains Wempe. “In the next couple months, we’re going to take this to Kickstarter or Indiegogo, and try to get the community involved. Once we’ve got the funding, we’ll draw the line in the sand as to what to handle next.”
Wempe might have his name on the app, but all three gentlemen are equally invested in the app and its development. Though it is Wempe who gets furthest down to brass tacks.
“The basic idea, before the app, was ‘What if we could crowdsource street art’? We wanted to put the puzzle pieces together to solve this problem because we don’t know where it is, we don’t know who it’s by, and we don’t know how to get more. But hopefully this is a platform to answer those questions.”
But the platform raises questions of its own. The app is free, at present; the formative trio of Curb refer to the app as a “non-profitable,” but not a nonprofit. Once the crowdfunding has garnered the funds necessary to create an income-generation model that doesn’t betray the spirit of the art form, that will change. If this becomes monetized, how can it be monetized in a way that doesn’t exploit the very community it’s claiming to celebrate?
“I think we’ve taken care to do this correctly, making sure it’s free, making sure there’s not going to be any ads on it—we want to make sure that the art’s portrayed in the right way,” notes Wempe. “Our dream is to get companies stoked on commissioning street artists to create original pieces. We want companies to see that these artists are respected and celebrated. Great street artists take the responsibility that their art will be seen by the many, and create art that the many will appreciate.”
And in that regard, at least, these three gentlemen aren’t so different from the street artists they’re hoping to celebrate. Curb is free to download for iOS.