Graffiti Tamed? New Exhibition in Chelsea

This feature from today's Daily News, profiling a new exhibit of graffiti art at a gallery in Chelsea illustrates how complicated the issue of graffiti is for communities and the courts. The new exhibit includes the work of both graffiti 'legends' and rising stars in the world of graffiti art.

For a discussion of highlights in the Daily News article, and links to some related items Read More.

Here at Bronx Community Solutions, we've learned a little bit about the issue. Some of our community partners have urged us to make use of hip-hop and youth culture for the difficult task of reaching young people involved in the justice system. On the other hand, others have shared their opinion that anything that condones or legitimizes graffiti encourages criminal offending. You can view a collection of our blog posts on the topic here.

The stated goal of the exhibit is "getting visitors to question whether graffiti is any more invasive than the barrage of ads they face on streets and subways every day. And what would the Big Apple be without its graffiti?" At the same time, the issue of graffiti and the criminal justice system seems to be implicit in any coversation with graffiti artists.

'Taboo', a graffiti writer who does not provide any other personal information (because of the nature of his illegal activities) explains some of his contact with the law, and the lack of impact that the experience seems to have had on his artistic risks:


"I've gotten arrested. They took me down to central. It sucked, but I was out painting again the next night. I do this because I enjoy doing it, and I'll stop when it ceases to be fun."

At the same time, the experience of other graffiti artists highlights the impact that involvement with the criminal justice system can have on their lives, and the 'legit' options that exist for artists who don't want to risk further involvement with 'the system.'


"Johnny Alamo, aka CLARK and FLY I.D. started chalking his name on the street when he was 8. "From that point on, I haven't stopped," he says. He graduated from chalk to markers to spray paint, doing subways, rooftops and alleys before getting arrested just over five years ago. "That rehabilitated me," says the 38-year-old Bronx father. "I paint community murals, backdrops. With my work, I can inspire people of all ages."

The question of the legitimicy of graffiti as 'art' is an ongoing debate that will likely not be resolved in the near future. It is up to the public to decide for themselves if they will embrace or denounce the art form, and up to graffiti writers to weigh the risk of involvement in the criminal justice system when deciding where to display their artistic endeavors.

Comments

Here are two more links on the topic.

1. A recent article in the Village Voice highlights the case of a well known chalk artist who's faced arrest. He used to do graffiti, but decided to "go straight" and now he does chalk drawings on the street (people who live around Carroll Gardens of Cobble Hill have probably seen them), but's he's been arrested anyway.
LINK

AND

2. Here's an article about a major public art project in Liverpool. As the article mentions, youth at the Liverpool Community Court are participating in the project.
LINK
This recent post to the Courtbuilders listserv has some useful insight on conducting an art-based program for court-involved youth:

"Before I worked with Seattle's Community Court, I spent several years with court-involved youth in what I called "Art Intervention". Participants were engaged in contributing visual, written, spoken word and other interpretations of issues that were important to them, such as social injustice, racial/gender inequity and concepts of power. With ground rules and the understanding that a positive expression was more powerful than a negative, we combined their ideas into collaborative public art- a mural, performance or showcase. The main idea is to "lead from behind"- through providing supportive guidance and limiting control, the emerging products took on a sense of ownership among its creators. Consequently, this process and product (outcome) provided positive empowerment and an experience of success. We literally had no recidivism among habitual repeat offenders while they were involved in the program. I would say it works very well, and could elaborate further should anyone want additional information. Logistics can be difficult, such as space-particularly in the Northwest, when projects need to be created inside most of the year. Hope this helps!

Stephanie Tschida
Community Service Coordinator
Seattle Community Court"
This photoset on Flickr is also worth a look: LINK

The Red Hook Community Justice Center runs an eight week summer photography project for youth. At the end of the project, participants display their work in an exhibition for the Red Hook community, and were also invited to exhibit at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artist Coalition's fall show.
From Amy Roza, Coordinator of Youth and Family Services at the Red Hook Community Justice Center, information on two more projects that use are with court-involved youth:

The Police Teen Theater Project, a partnership between the Red Hook Community Justice Center and Falconworks Artist Group, brings together local police and teens together to learn about acting, improvisation, theater and one another. The program was created as a result of regular reports from local youth, families and officers about unproductive interactions between these two groups and is based on a successful project in Chicago, Illinois. The Police Teen Theater Project engages both police and teens as novice actors, allowing them to meet on a uniquely level playing field. In addition to teaching acting skills to the participants, the goals of the Police-Teen Theater Project include increasing trust and respect between local police and teens and debunking the negative stereotypes of these groups in the community.

To read more about the Police-Teen Theater Project in the Daily News click here.

Turn-Style is a collaboration between the Groundswell Mural Project and the Red Hook Community Justice Center. Youth arrested for minor offenses, including vandalism and graffiti, are sanctioned to community service at the Groundswell Mural Project. Participants provide needed set up and clean up, participate in an art project and are exposed to Groundswells youth programming. To date, 27% of Turn-Style participants have voluntarily enrolled in Groundswell's after-school and summer programs after completing their mandate.

To learn more about Groundswell click here.
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