MD

2004-07-19

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From the Daily: Good Marks

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published July 18, 2004

Graffiti has long been considered a blight
upon our urban landscapes. It is often derided as a defacement of
public property, an obstruction to property values and a propagator
of gang warfare. However, after decades of evolution and media
attention, graffiti has been elevated to a burgeoning art form.
Stencil graffiti, a type where paint is sprayed through a cut-out
stencil to make an artistic or political statement, is on the rise
here in Ann Arbor, but some are leery over the new form of
expression. According to the Ann Arbor News, both area businesses
and the University are doing their best to fight this expansion by
zealously painting over stencil graffiti whenever it pops up. These
efforts to fight stencil graffiti should be abandoned, as graffiti
is a type of public art that only adds to the cultural richness of
Ann Arbor.

Stencil graffiti is but one aspect of the vibrant cultural
environment for which Ann Arbor is well renowned. The increasing
appearance of this public art indicates that residents feel
comfortable openly expressing themselves in ways that might not be
accessible in other cities. Acceptance of graffiti is a necessary
step that must be taken if Ann Arbor truly wishes to foster the
kind of lively arts community of which it boasts.

One argument commonly made against graffiti is that it is vulgar
and a sign of gang activity. This is not the case with Ann Arbor
stencil graffiti. Most of the graffiti seen around Ann Arbor makes
artistic or political statements that do little to incite violence.
The artistic and poetic aspects of the art beautify the city, while
the political and often anti-war messages have about as much to do
with gang violence as a John Kerry bumper sticker.

Many disapprove of stencil graffiti because of such overtly
political statements made on our public sidewalks. The beauty of
graffiti is that if someone dislikes the message, that person is
welcome to make his or her own mark. Graffiti is an intrinsically
interactive art that welcomes everyone to participate. An
argumentative discourse on city sidewalks should be encouraged and
the ensuing debate would only increase a sense of community through
dialogue.

Both the financial and cultural costs of anti-graffiti programs
outweigh their potential benefits and usually have little hope of
succeeding. For example, in 1985, efforts to clean graffiti-ridden
subway cars in New York only resulted in respiratory problems among
transit workers and young people due to exposure to the cleaning
solvents. A nearby school was forced to close and transit workers
won a $6.3 million court settlement. New York has spent countless
millions of dollars to fight graffiti, only to have the art form
resurge stronger than before. Campaigns against graffiti can also
wreak havoc on a city’s artistic and cultural well-being.
Areas of a city that are popular among graffiti artists are often
slapped with advertisements, replacing public art with corporate
marketing. Ann Arbor would suffer both economically and culturally
if it attempted similar graffiti clamp downs.

While beneficial, graffiti artists should exercise some
restraint in choosing where to paint their visual narratives.
Important landmarks like the Diag ‘M’ and large murals
like those near the Michigan Theater should be considered
off-limits because these are the few places where graffiti can hurt
the city’s cultural value. Graffiti artists should also be
wary of private property and keep their concrete canvases to public
areas. Despite these restrictions, stencil graffiti should be
encouraged to cultivate Ann Arbor’s artistic richness, as it
plays a vital role in making Ann Arbor an artistically and
culturally diverse, tolerant city.