Permanent Walls – They Just Want to Paint
This letter will propose to the cities of Los Angeles an inspirational adjustment to the approach to graffiti abatement. One that creates a web of well educated artists and designers ready to give back to society and remain loyal to Los Angeles. Why should we adjust anything to begin with and what’s at stake if we don’t?
The city has spent in excess of 7 million dollars re-painting over graffiti and has for in excess of ten years. In other words, the city has spent 7 million dollars annually creating new canvas for the thousands of young underserved artists to express themselves and practice their craft and sport. The dollar spend is $868/hour for a year changing nothing. So we, as Los Angeles residents, do something over and over expecting a different outcome. That is by definition – it goes without saying.
Graffiti is an act of vandalism. It is punishable by fines, jail or death. The streets are ripe with these stories. The median age range of artists doing graffiti is 17-20. Looking at this demographic in broad terms, they are in continuation high schools, with single parent households, with the need of at least one government subsidy. In broad terms, each has been caught for something criminal by this time.
There are 39 continuation high schools in LAUSD with approximately 150 students per school. The artists we speak with say 75% of them do graffiti. That’s 4400 students in LAUSD who take a spray can as their football and use our buildings as their field, because we give them no fields.
If one percent of them get sent to jail for doing their sport, we spend $2,728,000 on their incarceration and even if their assessment is wrong, and only 25% of them do it and 1% get caught, we spend $906,750 on their jail time annually.
The situation is the same in the 25 states and 10 countries that we’ve visited in Europe so far. Millions of dollars are being spent cleaning up after, jailing and shaming them.
So I ask you, how do you respond when someone tells you personally the following: “NO, YOU CAN’T DO THAT”? How do you react when you are told “NO”?
What happens when you are told to “SHUT UP”?
This is how they feel and something probably happened to them long ago that made them mad too. If you were not an athlete or an actor or an orator but you wanted to be self-expressed and you happened to fit demographically into the world of the streets – you may have found yourself in the streets, too.
No matter how you look at it we have an opportunity in Los Angeles to lead change for the U.S.
There are a other compelling reasons why we need to look at this culture of artists. We have very dynamic people in this group; they are risk takers, trendsetters, problem solvers, team players, rule breakers and eager creators. In other words, leaders.
Art Center, CalArts, Otis, SciArc has told us they need these students to help solve problems through design that the current cookie cutter students cannot. So the lead design and art schools centered in Los Angeles, poised to design our futures, are worried they won’t provide what it takes to solve and create innovative solutions without the very students we shame and incarcerate because we haven’t found a way to give them a field to play on.
I wonder if we already have room on any chain link fence in any public park to hang a piece of wood and call it a canvas?
Let’s look at graffiti also through the lens of sport, which it mimics. A side note, sanctioned sports fostered in schools are heralded as retention programs, often seen as important self-esteem builder and social constructs for developing solid citizens. The origins of hip hop included graffiti battles – painting as sport.
Doing sport with the burden of punishment is debilitating but some sport originated with rule breaking.
Why do we have X-Games and legal skateparks? Because in Los Angeles and then the world kids would trespass into property and skate empty swimming pools. Skaters who dared to skate changed a society’s view of trespassing, rule breakers into a multi-million dollar sport extravaganza. And they aren’t even wanted by art schools to change the world – but they have their own parks now, thanks to Tony Hawk and Rob Dyrdek and I assume a few of you.
What we need to do is create many many permanent walls in parks and government properties for these artists to flourish. To allow them to be taught at the wall how to workout their craft so they can see themselves as artists, finish high school, go on to college and solve our world’s problems. All it will take is a lot of 4X8 particle boards to start.
We assert that that one step will also begin healing a fissure that began in 1977 when the spray can came on the market and a large canvas was needed for it’s biggest boldest voice.
No one is born wanting to get in trouble and these artists just want to paint.
Being allowed to paint will reduce the need for them to paint on our city, thereby reducing the need to perpetuate the game of painting over their work, creating a fresh canvas for them and spending $7 million annually to paint over or millions annually to incarcerate them.