The Langston Room at Busboys & Poets was filled to capacity for Tuesday night’s panel discussion: “The Art of Vandalism: A Close Up Look at Graffiti in DC.” The event brought together graffiti artists, art advocates and government representatives in charge of cleaning up graffiti. The purpose of the forum was to better understand graffiti art and find solutions to unwanted graffiti.
The evening also served as a launch for the MuralsDC 2011 program. The MuralsDC programs hopes to create lasting efforts to keep frequently tagged walls free of graffiti by creating owner-approved murals.
Nancee Lyons, D.C. Department of Public Works (DPW) and a panelist, noted the success of the program over the past few years. Of the 34 murals created over the life of the program only three or four have been tagged by graffiti after completion. In the Borderstan neighborhood we can see examples of MuralsDC efforts at 1344 U Street NW and 1507 9th Street NW. A map and brochure about the program shows that most of the murals created in the past are east of Rock Creek Park, with almost no mural projects in Wards 2, 3 or 4.
Graffiti Enthusiasts in Attendance
As the evening got underway, forum moderator Mazi Mutafa conducted an informal poll of the audience to gauge their support of graffiti as an art form; it was clear from the audience reaction that the room was full of mostly graffiti enthusiasts. Mutafa is executive director of Words, Beats and Life, Inc (WBL) a non-profit dedicated to transforming individual lives and communities through hip-hop. WBL is a partner with DPW and the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities on the MuralsDC project.
Cory Stowers, art director for WBL and a graffiti artist, gave an overview of the culture of graffiti as a slide show of local graffiti art was played. Many of the images have become iconic symbols of D.C., including the tags by legendary “Cool Disco Dan” which were pervasive along the Metro Red Line tracks in the 1980s.
Comments during the forum about how graffiti provides young artists the opportunity to practice their craft elicited almost no reaction from the audience. (This was clearly not an Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting I was attending.)
Lyons appeared to be a lone soldier in the room any time discussion came around to efforts to combat unwanted graffiti — repeating many times that her office is overwhelmed with calls from residents wanting graffiti removed.
A flyer available at the entrance to the forum noted that the D.C. DPW responded to 1,780 requests to clean graffiti last year and have already responded to 3,946 requests this fiscal year.
Information on MuralsDC
To be considered for a mural the space must be part of a privately owned business, the owner must consent by authorization form, the mural must remain intact for one year, and the wall must be a highly visible, chronically targeted site of graffiti. Selected sites will be announced in early 2012. If a business owner wishes to participate in the MuralsDC program they may email Lyons at [email protected] with MURALSDC SUBMISSION in the subject line. Residents who wish to report unwanted graffiti may call 311 to request abatement.