- Abandoned Buildings
- Water Towers
- Skate Parks
- Garbage Cans
- Street Art
- School Bathrooms – UGL, Foellinger, Murphys
“Every graffiti artist makes decisions about where their work will live for different reasons. Some choose safety, some fame, others choose randomly. We believe that when art and space collide, the random becomes expressive and experience is created. This project is not solely about graffiti, but rather aims to explore the places in which it exists.”
Types of Spaces:
Blank, smooth surfaces are the most frequently targeted by graffitists. The smoother and lighter in color, the better as the graffitists will be able to use a greater variety of colors. Surfaces that are highly visible are also preferred. Graffitists, like artists, want to show off their work.
Why out in Public?:
Public spaces such as parks, are especially prone to graffiti because in addition to having ideal surfaces, there is no apparent victim. Park authorities are thought of as an unidentifiable entity and the cost of removal thought to be shouldered by the system, rather than one person.
Over the weekend, I decided to explore spaces that had been used for graffiti purposes. The area I chose to explore was Little Village, which is the community I grew up in. Little Village is located on the South Side of Chicago. It is a marginalized community with predominantly Mexican and Mexican American residents. It is known for having high crime rates, prostitution, and low-levels of education. With that said, a vast majority of the graffiti that I found was based on issues within the community or reflected a sense of the Mexican culture.
In total I found 9 graffiti art pieces. Most of these pieces were found in dumpsters, garages, alley walls and advertising sites. Based on these pieces, I decided to do an analysis on the art pieces that stood out to me the most (see below for lineup). The first is a an art piece of an ice cream cone with ice cream dripping down the cone, while their is a lit bombed on top of the ice cream ball. I saw this as a metaphor that reflects the effects of weather changes. Meaning to say that as the weather rises or the summer approaches(ice cream dripping), so do the crime shootings (bomb). In other words known as “the block gets hot.” Other graffiti stencils include famous legends like Frida Kahlo and Chalino Sanchez. Both have played an important role in the Mexican culture. Next, I found a stencil of a Jesus Christ Crucifix. I thought this could be related to Easter Sunday and the prominence of religion (particularly catholicism) in Mexican communities. Lastly, I found two pieces that most resonated with the war on drugs. The war on drugs is a vital problem occurring in Mexico. However, it has also become a problem in the Little Village community as many of the distributors of these Mexican cartels manifest their activities in Little Village. We see this through the art as well. One of the stencils I found was that of Jesus Vicente Zambada also known as “El Vicentillo” who is one of the leading drug traffickers in the Sinaloa Cartel. In relation, I also found a stencil of a little boy hold a rifle. I believed this could reflect the high number of youth that are getting involved in the drug cartels at very young ages. The last two art pieces I found were cartoon characters such as Ninja Turtles and Winnie The Pooh.
Attitudes Towards Graffiti
Attitudes towards graffiti from authority figures and anti-graffiti organizations, including the FBI, generally consider it to be a form of vandalism and while the specific details of the crime itself may vary between communities, graffiti is illegal. The US Department of Justice says that “graffiti contributes to lost revenue associated with reduced ridership on transit systems, reduced retail sales and declines in property value. In addition, graffiti generates the perception of blight and heightens fear of gang activity.” Residents also often report that they feel less safe in neighborhoods with graffiti, and there is often a link with a decrease in business, tourism and transit use.The city of Chicago describes it as scarring the community, hurting property values and decreasing quality of life. Graffitihurts.org says that it sends a signal that nobody cares and that it attracts further forms of crime and ‘street delinquency’ such as theft and violence.
In terms of cost, the removal of graffiti uses up tax dollars that can be used for community improvements instead such as roads and schools. For example, graffiti on road signs can ruin their reflectivity, causing a danger to road users, and costs $35 – $40 per sign to clean. Chicago is one of many cities and communities within the US offering free graffiti removal services in order to maintain the appearance of neighborhoods and businesses. However, parents or guardians may be liable for monetary damages, if a minor in the same household commits any type of vandalism, including graffiti. A 2006 survey of the 88 cities, Caltrans and Metro in Los Angeles County on graffiti removal found the cost was about $28 million. With a population of close to 10 million, the per capita cost is about $2.80. With a population of just under one million, the City of San Jose, CA spent approximately $2 million in 2006 fighting graffiti.
In general, ‘legal’ graffiti walls have been found to be ineffective. They attract graffiti artists from both within and outside the city, introducing new graffiti artists to the area who then leave without having to face the consequences of their actions. The area outside the designated ‘legal’ section often gets covered with graffiti once the legal area is filled. It is also important to point out that one major element of graffiti is the ‘fame’ aspect, with graffiti artists trying to gain fame by having their tag across the city. While the legal wall provides a place to have their name displayed, it is still only one place amongst many in the city and it is unlikely to prevent further graffiti from appearing across the community.
With a legal wall, governments or businesses essentially sponsor graffiti in an effort to rid a community of graffiti, sending a mixed message of tolerance vs. discouragement. There is also no data also showing any decrease in arrests for graffiti in cities with legal walls.