MOSCOW — The city of Moscow is covered with graffiti, and proudly so. Members of the “Best City On Earth” project have said they will paint street art on 150 buildings by September. Meanwhile, there is graffiti at the Faces & Laces urban culture festival in Gorky Park, as well as an exhibition of a master street artist. Saint Petersburg also has a new graffiti festival — and so do the cities of Perm and Yekaterinburg.
Of course, Russian cities are still far from Berlin, where street art fills literally every centimeter of the urban core. But the graffiti trend in Russia is conspicuous nevertheless. In the past year, the trend has been embraced by city governments and private companies, and street art has started to become an industry with very respectable budgets.
Russian graffiti started to develop in the 1990s. According to Russian artist Kostya Zmogk, the first commercial interest in graffiti was in 1998, when graffiti artists made an album cover for a hip hop group. After that, graffiti artists began to receive more commissions. “First it was small shops, then it was office buildings of larger companies, and now everyone is commissioning us, even government institutions and banks,” he says.
In 2007, Zmogk founded Allovergraphics, a company specializing in connecting master graffiti artists with commercial clients. After creating the website, the company found its first client almost instantaneously — although with a small budget of only about $500. But the company started to attract numerous commissions, so much so that Zmogk and his business partner, Kostos, couldn’t handle the work themselves and started hiring friends as subcontractors, keeping 40% for the company.
“The team we developed consisted in around 20 professional artists in addition to around 100 apprentices,” Zmogk says. “They have done more than 300 projects.” Each project costs between $60 and $500 per square meter. Zmogk doesn’t disclose the company’s current revenue, but he says that he and his partner are hoping to earn between $200,000 and $300,000 next year. “Of course, there is competition,” Zmogk says. “For example, there’s the First Graffiti Agency, two talented guys from Novosibirsk. But there’s just two of them, and there are more than a hundred of us.”
Petro, a graffiti artist from the Moscow region, thinks you can make good money alone. He has been a graffiti artist from more than 13 years and was among the first to take commercial orders. At first he took all orders, but he’s now successful enough to get only involved in projects where he has full artistic control. “Many people are recognizing that graffiti is art, and that we are real artists,” he says.
Petro’s last project was to paint an electrical substation as part of the Moscow government’s “Best City On Earth” project. The artist was satisfied: full artistic control, plus a $600 honorarium.
All of the money for the festival comes from the sponsor, a major developer. At the beginning of the year, the developer put together a project to combat vandalism. That project includes sponsoring a graffiti competition, working with the city of Moscow on the graffiti festival and opening an area where graffiti artists can legally work in a sugar factory owned by the sponsor.
In Moscow - Photo: Andrew Kusnetsov
The graffiti artists like to talk about the fact that the budgets are enormous, but the artists only get a small percentage themselves. “Sponsors don’t work with artists directly, they go through curators,” Petro explains. “And not all curators are the same.” Some that he has worked with are excellent and don’t forget about artists when its time to divide the pie, but many public projects offer minuscule pay for artists, which means that public spaces are often covered with the work of inexperienced artists.
The government spends very little money on graffiti, but its support for it is sometimes surprising. For example, the Moscow Museum recently hosted a graffiti jam, where young artists were invited to paint an old car wash on the museum’s property. The more conservative people among the Museum’s community weren’t supportive about the jam at all. But it wasn’t an expensive undertaking: Artists were just given dinner and paint, and the exposition is temporary. The old car wash is scheduled to be demolished next year.
A new social art
“When this kind of art was illegal, it was truthful and expressed the real feelings of society,” says Egor Korobeinikov, head of the UrbanUrban.ru project. “The excessive attention that the government is paying to graffiti could also kill its strength and meaning.”
Korobeinikov feels that the government’s open-armed embrace threatens to diminish graffiti as nothing more than a pretty picture. “You can argue that graffiti is an excellent way to transform the city,” he said. “But the government needs to understand that it will not solve the problem of miserable architecture and old housing that should be torn down.”
Which is not to say that Korobeinikov thinks that all of the municipal graffiti projects are bad. In the Siberian town of Perm, for example, there is a yearly graffiti festival that experts agree is excellent.
Climbing off the walls
There aren’t really that many people who make a living from graffiti. Some drop the hobby as they age, and others want a more stable income and try to do something related. That’s what happened to Vladimir Zomba, who won a large prize in an international graffiti competition and used the money to earn a degree in animation. He is still drawing, but he is also a director in an animation studio in London.
Some artists decide to trade in walls for canvas, and start selling their graffiti on a more portable medium. Kostya Zmogk sells his work on canvas, and they already go for 2,000 euros each — a price he is sure will rise in the future.
Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.
It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.
More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.
But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:
Cleaner aviation fuel
The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.
While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.
Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.
In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.
Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.
High-flying ambitions for the sector
Hydrogen and electrification
Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.
One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.
Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.
New aircraft designs
Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.
International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.
The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.
Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airportcommons.wikimedia.org
Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.
The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.
Data privacy issues
However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.
Auckland Airport, New Zealand
The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?
At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.
Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.
40% of Swedes intend to travel less
According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.
But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.
At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.
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