Saturday, July 08, 2006


THE GRAFFITI PROBLEM IS A VERY SERIOUS ONE: & other excuses for inaction
by pam ashlund

Moved into the Lincoln Heights area of LA recently. The first thing I noticed about my building was a corner of Graffiti “art” gracing the wall. The second thing I noticed about the block were the much less artsy scrawls tagging almost every building in the vicinity. The tags on Michaels Furniture Store had been painted over, leaving only the rectangular square of a lighter shade of tan over the rest of the tan wall. The liquor store on the corner was painted with a mural, but every part of the mural was tagged. I counted over eight unique tag signatures. Some made reference to gangs in other areas; some seemed to be individual names. Whatever the meaning, the mural was completely defaced.

After a month of pondering the graffiti, I decided to contact the City. I could have called the “311” graffiti hotline, but it seemed so impersonal, so instead I walked over to my local Councilman’s office. This wasn’t difficult to do since the office for Council District 1 was on the other corner of my block! I asked my father to accompany me, hoping he would add a measure of maturity and gravity to my case.

The secretary at the Council office told me that the Councilman wasn’t available but I could speak with a “Case Manager”. The Case Manager for my area wasn’t available but another area Case Manager came out to hear my plea and then told me to wait for a moment to speak with a “Deputy”. A few minutes later, the Deputy came out and said that the City could provide some rollers and paint, but that it would be a standard color (not custom) or I was welcome to call the “311” number.

I had come over to the office only intending to offer my help, but frustration overcame me when I felt what seemed to be a very familiar bureaucratic apathy. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and I found myself crying out “but don’t you think even if we can’t solve the whole problem, the Councilman could just keep his own little block clean?” “Well” said the Deputy, “the Graffiti Problem is a very serious problem in the City”.

Luckily my father intervened at that moment, interrupting what could have been a disastrous tirade with “Well, anything we can do to help, we have to get going now” he cheerfully offered. And that was that.

I’m a nonprofit accountant by trade and as I pay the bills I too have contemplated the “graffiti problem”. We pay the paint companies over $100,000 a year for the paint to cover over this “problem”. The thing is that to sit at my desk and moan about what a waste it is to spend this money for paint to paint over paint, is one thing, but to look at on my own block is a different thing entirely.

Hoping to find some more innovative solution, I set out to do a little research. To my surprise I found a man named Ward blogging about the subject in a blog called “The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal”. His blog took it’s title from Mark McCormick’s 2001 award winning video. This video (summarized in Wards blog) “makes the observation that the process of destroying one art form unwittingly creates another”. An idea I certainly never considered before.

TANGENT: Ward, it seems, in addition to blogging, is also a Graffiti artist himself. His work (painted on walls around Atlanta under the pseudonym “Canon” is a bit reminiscent of Picasso in his Blue Period. As a fan of Guernica and the Portraits of Sylvette, Ward/Canon’s art holds appeal. Sadly most has been painted over, but are recorded in his photo journal. That would be the downside of unrequited wall painting.

The next week, as I drove around the block, I noticed that the mural on the corner liquor store (in all its vandalized glory) had been painted over. I will probably never know whether it was our visit to the City, or the liquor store owner, who brought about this little bit of social change...but...who cares?

This blog has been cross-posted in Lofty Thoughts.

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