Where does Street Art stop and Vandalism begin?

eltooA man and a woman were arrested last night while tagging the vacant Smith Furniture building on Washington Street. Many in the business community are obviously pleased about this. The feeling, however, isn’t unanimous. The following note, sent to the Director of the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority today, comes from James Marks, the owner of the screen-printing shop VG Kids:

I suggest we pause for a moment and take a real look at our priorities and vision for downtown.

We talk about being bold, taking risks, being unique, and supporting our alternative culture. And yet here we are applauding the arrest of 2 community members applying those goals in a very real, tangible, and in my opinion, valuable manner.

The two people who were arrested are not thougtless destroyers of property, and it’s important to distinguish their work from those that are. They are artists, and if all our talk of ‘we’re not Maybury’ is true, they’re on our side.

They understand and accept the risks they take to better our city. But as it will ultimately be the stakeholders who will benefit from their investment, it would be wise to show, if not outward appreciation, the occasional blind eye.

It’s a complicated issue. Personally, I detest what I perceive to be vandalism. But, at the same time, I really like the tags I consider to be art. It’s subjective. Ypsi has a vibrant tagging and sticker culture, and, I know I’ll take a lot of shit for saying so, but, for the most part, I appreciate it. I don’t think it belongs on residences, or on the fronts of commercial buildings, but I enjoy most of what I see in alleys, on sidewalks, and on the backs of signs around town.

I think there’s a place of it. I think it’s legitimate art. And, I agree with James, that it, to some extent, is the price you pay for living in a vibrant, young community in which new ideas are constant percolating. And, given the amount of sanctioned advertising that we’re all forced to accept and consume each and every day, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that we the people be given an opportunity to advertise what it is that we find worth promoting.

Why is the wolf image above vandalism, and the liquor ad on Michigan Avenue OK? Because they pay money, does that make it right?

I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t think we as a community can just come out and say, across the board, that tagging, stickering and posting flyers is vandalism. I know it’s a slippery slope, but I think we’ve got to find some kind of compromise that we can all live with.

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  1. melissa
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    “And, given the amount of sanctioned advertising that we’re all forced to accept each day, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that we the people be given an opportunity to advertise what it is that we find worth promoting.”

    Exactly. The day I don’t have to ever see another Big Mac on a bus is the day I’ll listen to people pissed off about street art.

  2. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 11:13 pm | Permalink


    I guess I’m waiting to see the details of what kind of compromise you, or any other reader, suggests … what kind of blue ribbon committee is convened to determine what is “art” and what locations are deemed “acceptable.”

    Payment doesn’t make something acceptable. Permission does. That said, I generally like much of the graffiti around town. And I’d personally be happy to see more of it on vacant (my definition of acceptable) buildings.

    The thing I find absurd about this discussion is the idea that graffiti shouldn’t be punished. Part of the attraction is the social deviance and associated risk. If the city wrote an ordinance that said, “It’s okay to paint in these locations” the “art” would be as lame as a college frat rock. To hear folks bemoaning getting officially sanctioned for being deviant artists just strikes me as incredibly lame and rather undeviantish. There was a time when such “arrests” (followed by quick release and minor fines) were considering a badge of honor. If we officially turn a blind eye to deviance, what has deviance become besides socially accepted behavior and, again, incredibly lame.

    I love VG Kids, but I’m finding it hard to resist the impulse to go out tomorrow and paint two large golden arches on their storefront in broad daylight, which, in our small local culture, could be argued as a truly deviant an artistic move… I would expect to be arrested, otherwise, I’d feel like a complete fake.

  3. Sticks
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    I picked up on the word “vacant”. I’m not saying that the owner of the furniture building is comparable to Maroun or anything, but it made me think of Detroit and all the thousands of vacant buildings strewn across the city. Ask yourself, who is doing a greater disservice to the city and it’s residents: the writers getting their name out there or the slumlords sitting on the property, purposefully keeping it vacant?

  4. roots
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    Good point, Sticks. I don’t know about the particular building in question, but I do that know that 9 times out of 10 street art beautifies. Street art, especially on an abandoned/vacant building, says, Hey, we’re still here (even if the business that once occupied the space is long gone).

    PLUS, don’t we have real crime to fight?

  5. Posted March 25, 2009 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    OEC is exactly right.

    Street art can be cool (think Tripper’s Alley in Ann Arbor), or ugly and stupid (like when people paint “don’t” above a stop sign).

    Should we form an art judging committee at the courthouse to see which artists have to pay a fine and who gets to walk free?

  6. auntie ypsilanti
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    I contend that one can only paint “don’t” on the top of a stop sign if they paint “believing” at the bottom. Or “dancing”.

  7. Mike
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Graffiti will only drive this city lower than it already is. Anyone who says otherwise is foolish, or at least isn’t doing it with a straight face. I generally agree with you Mark on most of your opinions, but this one is just absurd. Its not April 1 yet….

  8. Citizen Blogger
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    I’ll second OEC – if you’re braver than I, and go out and create the stencil art that I so love around town, I’ll admire you for it…but not to the point of saying that you shouldn’t get in trouble if you’re caught at it. If you’re stenciling the alley sides of abandoned buildings, cool. If you’re tagging a building that the owner cares enough about that they’re willing to hold a stake out and sit up watching until 1 am in order to catch you at it – well, you played the game, but they played it better, and at that point I have to give the property owner as much credit as the artist. (And then there’s the guy or girl spraying “Krum” all over town, which definitely does not elicit any sympathy from me. Come on – who tags trees?)

    And, as Geoff said, making an official distinction is somewhat frightening. Do you want the district court judge defining “art” on a case by case basis? The police chief? The city attorney’s office? All of those people are no doubt very good at their jobs – but their job does not, and should not, include defining “art”.

  9. tommy
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    It’s okay Mark. Go ahead and ‘tat’ up alleys, street signs, and abandoned buildings with as many Severed Unicorn Heads as you feel you can get away with. For those who are worried about de-beautification of the city, A&M Services has a contract to ‘abate’ this graffiti when asked by the city. I’m sure they’ll do a fine job!

  10. Posted March 25, 2009 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    It’s somebody else property or even public property and these people don’t get permission to do paint on it. If you want to create street art, pony up some cash and rent a billboard or, better yet, buy a vacant building and do something with it.

    I seriously doubt that VG Kids or Mark Maynard would be really excited to have me come around and spray paint “Eat More Pussy” on the fronts of their buildings while they weren’t around. I, for one, would consider that art.

  11. mx missile
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    I haven’t heard anyone here say that it’s alright to tag private residences or the fronts of businesses, so all the nonsense about “How would VG like it if we put golden arches on his store” is just a distraction. The point, I think, is that if we want to live in a thriving artistic environment, there are going to be things like tagging.

    I agree, however, that taggers shouldn’t be let off the hook. They know the risks of doing what they’re doing. And, truth be told, I don’t think they would enjoy it nearly as much if it were legal. At the same time, however, I think that we can show a little support for what the “good” taggers are doing.

  12. Posted March 25, 2009 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    It was my understanding of the city ordinance against graffiti that a person would not be allowed to put up street art even on their own property. I have thought about taking a spray paint can to the side of my house though just to see what would happen but I don’t because I know what would happen. Someone would complain to the city and I would be ordered to paint over it or pay a fine.

  13. Posted March 25, 2009 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Who decides what “good” tagging is? You? I personally think that spraypainting erect penises and boobs on people’s property is art, but I’m guessing that you don’t. Personally, I think that all tagging sucks and is mostly inept and an eyesore. Except penises and boobs. But that’s just my opinion and I’m sure it differs from yours.

    Just because a building is vacant doesn’t mean that no one owns it. It could mean that they just can’t find a tenant and will have even less opportunity to fill it if there is a multitude of spraypaint on it. Yes, there are abandoned properties but the solution should be for someone to do something with it. Buy it, lease it, pay your taxes and paint it all you like.

  14. ytown
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    “Ypsi has a vibrant tagging and sticker culture” WTF???

  15. Posted March 25, 2009 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Ypsi presently has no place for public art. Maybe they should. Hell there isn’t even a place to flier in the city. There are amazing mural inside the old Water Street factory, too bad no one can see them but the few who venture in there. I’ve never seen street art on a store front or a residence, and I’ve been to a lot of cities. There are codes street artist stick to.
    Tagger are a different story, they’re doing the same thing as dogs pissing on everything they see. It’s all about name recognition, nothing else.
    If I plant flowers in a vacant lot without permission, what’s the difference?
    How about we paint all the boards covering up the doors and windows of condemned buildings in Ypsi?
    Shepard Fairey calls it “Urban Renewal”.

  16. Posted March 25, 2009 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Where does Street Art stop and Vandalism begin?

    My house.

  17. Daniel
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    It surprizes me to hear they arrested the two people. Ypsi seems to be very tolerant of “deviant” behavior. Open air drug sales. prostitution, “urban” farming, this list goes on – why should should they care about some tagging….?

  18. Paw
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Yes, why should prostitutes and urban farmers walk free, and vandals be arrested? Terrific point.

  19. Posted March 25, 2009 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    They probably mouthed off to the cops. Drinking? Any number of things. It amazes me that people fail to consider these things when rushing to defend “counterculture” behavior.

  20. Dirtgrain
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Graffiti artists are supposed to be stealthy like ninjas. Mistakes are not tolerated. These people should be ridiculed and scorned. Fools!

  21. Daniel
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, Ypsi is hardly crawling with cops. They couldn’t have been particularly stealthy.

    If only a bucket of paint could get rid of drug dealers, hookers or urban farmers….

  22. Posted March 25, 2009 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Dirtgrain. Half of street art is being stealthy. It’s hard to get caught, especially when the police rarely get out of their cars.
    Could these artist be the Rosa Parks of street art, planning to get caught to raise awareness?

  23. applejack
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    Some folks are being sarcastic when they suggest that we form a committee to determine which graffiti is art and which is just vandalism, but that isn’t such a bad idea. The quality of street art varies greatly, and we should reward (or de-criminalize) the good stuff, and punish the bad stuff. The owner of the property should certainly get a vote, but not necessarily a veto over what stays and what goes.
    When Banksy paints a wall in the UK you can bet that most people will feel that their community has been enriched rather than robbed, and they treat the artwork as such (I’m not saying every tagger is like Banksy, but if we had a culture that rewarded artists for putting their work in public we might develop one or two of our own).

  24. bob
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    It’s been almost 20 years since my first visit to Ann Arbor (now I work in Ann Arbor and live in Ypsi) and my fondest memory was the graffiti. I really appreciated the art whether I agreed with what I was reading or not. I would continue visiting Ann Arbor to read and photograph the graffiti until I moved out of the area. I moved to Bozeman, MT which may as well be a sister city to Ann Arbor – very similar because it is a thriving college town, known for its cultural diversity, museums, and art. Bozeman also has lots of graffiti or street art. I took pictures there as well and appreciated the art. Vandalism should be a crime when it is physical destruction of property, and yes, this would include painting the store fronts of businesses whether they are abandoned or not. A city allowing itself to be defined by culture and art should not be a crime. Many people have made a good point on this topic – Ypsilanti has a plenty of crime that is defining this city and that is what should be addressed or nobody will want to live here.

  25. Glen S.
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    “The owner of the property should certainly get a vote, but not necessarily a veto over what stays and what goes.”

    Are you serious?

  26. Posted March 25, 2009 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    AJ, in my humble opinion, that’s fucked.

  27. E. G. Penet
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Each bit of tagging I’ve ever seen in this town offers a bit of artful insight. Most, if not all, is clearly distinguishable from “gang graffitti” and outright defacement, such as signage or planters or trash receptacles. The “Keep Ypsi Ghetto” lettering around town is NOT “tagging.” That’s just stupid. Other spray lettering done in Riverside Park, for instance, even when it attempts to say something “political” is not tagging. And it always contains poor grammar and/or spelling errors (like my typing).

    The issue I have is that many properties in the area are in the Historic District and deserve attention and care. I find it rather disingenuous when a building owner who has neglected their property complains about “tagging.” Has no one noticed that most “taggers” do not touch finely-kept facades, but rather usually “tag” abandoned or disused properties or focus on alleys in clever, eye-catching ways.

    Long live the true “taggers!”

  28. Posted March 25, 2009 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Great point all around. Thanks.

    First off, I wasn’t saying that homes and businesses should be considered appropriate targets. I pretty much said the opposite, when I mentioned that I thought sidewalks, alleys and the backs of signs seemed like reasonable places for people to make use of.

    Secondly, to Andy’s point, I guess I’m not up on the lingo. Sorry if I was using “tag” and “street art” interchangeably. When I said that I appreciate local tagging culture, I didn’t mean that I like seeing someone’s initials or “Crips” spray-painted on the side of a building. I was referring primarily to stencil art, when done in appropriate places. Sorry for any confusion.

    And, when I spoke of compromise, I don’t know what I had in mind – maybe that the crews doing graffiti might step up and police themselves. And I didn’t mean that the police shouldn’t stop people. They know the risks, and they should be prepared to accept the consequences. I just meant that catching people spray-painting wolves in alleyways shouldn’t be a priority, along with busting prostitutes and drug dealers.

    And, for what it’s worth, I like living in a town where someone on the Historic District Commission says, “long live taggers.”

  29. galan
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    I usually think Mark’s comments are insightful and well thought out. However, in my humble opinion this whole topic is just ridiculous. All the buildings are owned by someone, vacant or occupied. If the owner asks someone to write, spraypaint, tattoo, whatever on their buildings, well that is one thing, maybe art or not art, it doesn’t matter here. If it is unwanted, it is “Graffitti” the term we give to unwanted visual representations on buildings or other surfaces executed by people who are not the owners of the property. In the case of public buildings, we all own them so we have to have a democratic vote of how and if we want our surfaces used by “Artists” and which ones and which surfaces we would give our combined permission to use. And when is an artist a vandal? When he/she is expressing him/herself on someone else’s property without their permission. I don’t care if it is the “Mona LIsa”.

  30. Posted March 25, 2009 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Let’s divide into two camps… Those who think that street artists are better for the community than real estate speculators who sit on property for years without improving it, and those who think that real estate speculators who sit on property for years without improving it are better for the community than street artists.

  31. Posted March 25, 2009 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    And I’m not disagreeing that these two individuals who were apprehended should be prosecuted. I’m just saying that the crime, even though illegal, isn’t necessarily a terrible thing.

  32. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Maproom Systems has a lot of nice documentation of the culture.

    Personally, I find the scripts of taggers to be more artistic and expressive than the sloppy little wolf above and comparisons between it and Banksy a bit of a stretch.

    As for painting on abandoned buildings, let’s not forget the teeth that started popping up on the fronts and interiors of very un-vacant property, as well on the veterans plaque at Riverside Park. Somebody had to pay for the cleanup.

    I don’t quite follow the comparisons to prostitution. I’m guessing if the police drove by and saw someone getting a blow job in front of Smith’s they’d run them in for that, as well.

    Mark, you say it shouldn’t be a priority. What makes you think this is a priority? Had the police been staking out the place for weeks or did they just happen across the folks? If the police see someone spraying something on any property, shouldn’t they stop? How are they supposed to make the judgment call? Should it be based on whether it’s white kids with stencils (aka street artists) vs. minority kids with spray paint (aka vandals/taggers)?

    From Andy…

    Tagger are a different story, they’re doing the same thing as dogs pissing on everything they see. It’s all about name recognition, nothing else.

    It’s all about name recognition? What’s painting a tooth on a sidewalk bench about?

  33. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Good street art is kinda like sophisticated cat burglers. Let’s face it, we appreciate skill and effort put into something, even if it is illegal. Our legal system is pretty left brained (excepting courageous juries), but our right brains kinda dig it. But yeah, it is illegal, and we’d be watering down the achievement if we took that aspect away from it. And if I were to catch someone doing it to my property, I might see if I can use some skill and effort to get away with breaking his/her knees with a baseball bat, or beaning him/her with a big rock. Fair’s fair.

  34. Yonkers
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    Art is for losers who can’t do math.

  35. Oliva
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    I think the oversized rental info. signs on the front of so many houses and apartment buildings in the historic district and otherwise are ugly and sad and bring down the value of our neighborhoods. I would much rather see some colorful art upon abandoned buildings than see these tawdry signs upon house front after house front.

  36. jean
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    There are better things for the cops to do than suppress creative expression… in good or bad taste. I’d like to see skaters, taggers and buskers on every corner of our downtowns. Local color doesn’t come cheaper or easier, and it’s good for business. What they do is not begging, harrassment or vandalism. My vote for best graffiti: “Poverty is violence” but the word”poverty” was crossed out and replaced with “Puberty.”

  37. Oliva
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    I love that, jean, re. puberty is violence. Love when graffiti is interactive and fluid and part of everyday life, an image to count on. Who can say how many people’s lives were affected, if ever so slightly, by the old “McGovern for Trueth” message at Kingsley and First in Ann Arbor, which regularly got a facelift and lasted for decades (has been redone again?). And there was a big “God Is Sexy” painted on a building near Wayne State University for at least a decade–a grounding and at the same time lightening effect from that simple public declaration.

  38. galan
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    For those who favor graffitti/street art: Have someone scrawl something on your house without your permission and then see what you think. And then, imagine the city like that. Nice. Don’t want it? Well, then you have to pay to have it painted over…thousands of dollars. Imagine the cost to you as a taxpayer to make the street signs correct, which they have to be by law. Be a serious business owner with the “puberty” sign on your building. Are you happy about this? In fact, why don’t those of you who wish not to curb “creative expression” go on down to one of the buildings you are complaining about and create some “art” on those buildings and see what you think of yourselves and then of the buildings? Are you proud of imposing yourself on others in this way? Picture yourself as a gang member making their turf as some of this grafitti does. It is like a gang newspaper and the sooner it is down the better. The city does a good job at this.

    Actually, I DO have an idea. Why don’t some of you graffiti supporters put your energy into helping promote a skate park with a wall for people to create their art in a way that is harmless to others. Water Works Park is the perfect place for such a thing. Disc Golf, skate boarding, and street art. The skateboarders who use the Thompson Building every day have expressed a desire to have a place to go to practice and perform. So have some of the Ozone House people.

  39. Paw
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Galan, I think your anger is misdirected. If you want to talk about costs to our community, let’s talk about Water Street. You’re screaming about the cost of a bucket of paint when our leaders gambled tens of millions of dollars on a bet and lost. I, for one, would rather look at street art, which costs us nothing, than at 38 acres of nothing that cost us millions.

  40. galan
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Not angry, just making a point. I hope you don’t take offense at this but, your comment does not seem relevant to the point that is being made here. Nevertheless, like I said before, why not look toward something positive like the skate park idea? Why not put your anger into accomplishing that? It could even be on the Water Street property.

  41. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    “Free Mumia Jamal with every purchase”

  42. Posted March 26, 2009 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    A skate park at Waterworks is a great idea. I disc golf there and run on the trails around the river that connects to Water Street (which connects to Riverside/Frog Island). A little more TLC and good ideas like that and it could be a fantastic little park. Although I like how quiet and deserted it is now, and a sort of like a hidden gem / secret, I did catch a guy pulling up his pants after finishing with a hooker by the side of the river as I ran past on the trail north of the bridge. More people there would help chase that kind of activity away. I guess I didn’t really catch him, I just picked up the pace and gave a little “what’s up” and thought that I’d never take the baby jogger back there.

  43. Curt Waugh
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    galan makes a good point (and BA makes a nonsensical counter-point). The best way to get children or trained animals to do what you want is through positive reinforcement. He’s taking the concept to its logical conclusion in this issue: If there is a desire for people to behave in a certain way, channel that energy somewhere good. A skate park (or whatever you want to make) is a good start. Folks will still want to create illegal graffiti, but this might siphon off at least some of it and maybe stigmatize it to some degree.

  44. E. G. Penet
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    I am a “former” commissioner and now a resident with a severe preservation s1 nerve.

  45. E. G. Penet
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    We very much need a skate park or a few dozen feet of pipe at the least. The skaters around town have nowhere to go and do more damage than the “taggers.”

  46. Posted March 26, 2009 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I love the idea of a skate park in Ypsi.

    I also appreciate a lot of the graffiti and street art. So much so that I sometimes have thought about creating some of my own — on the house that I own of course. I would never deface someone else’s house or building. Still, I think that if I did this, I would run afoul of the city’s graffiti ordinance anyways.

  47. Posted March 26, 2009 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    After reading this, I have exactly zero sympathy for the people that got arrested. A guy owns a building, gets sick of people spraypainting bullshit on his property stays up all night and catches the fucks.

    The building owner is not evil because he can’t find a tenant and deserves to have his property respected just like everyone else. There are a lot of deadbeat landlords out there, but this guy gives enough of a shit to stay up waiting for dumb white kids who seem to think they have some God given right to fuck up people’s buildings because no one is in it and they are ‘artists’.

    They lose. This guy is a hero.

  48. Posted March 26, 2009 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    My Graffiti here:

    Visit Transition-Ypsilanti

  49. Luke Bison
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    Seems like a lot of folks here were screaming about snow shoveling a few weeks ago. Was their anger misdirected? So we’re not allowed to be upset by anything that’s not as bad as water street?

  50. Oliva
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Actually, I DO have an idea. Why don’t some of you graffiti supporters put your energy into helping promote a skate park with a wall for people to create their art in a way that is harmless to others. Water Works Park is the perfect place for such a thing. Disc Golf, skate boarding, and street art.

    I like a lot of what you said, galan–got me to stop and think. (Love BA’s comment following it.) I also like the skatepark idea. My husband is planning on taking lottery winnings and making a skate park, water park, etc., over at Motor Wheel. The plan has some holes still. Could be very cool, though.

    I do sometimes get less-than-practical here, a temptation of comments made off the cuff, as on a blog. I would love to hereby absolve myself of all future illogical, unfair, or stupid comments–as well as any capitulating later. Ha.

    It’s a problem, some of the best messages are on building walls and overpasses. But it’s not fair if it’s on someone’s building who doesn’t want it or a blight to many people, what have you. Graffiti, what a thorny issue.

  51. Posted March 26, 2009 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad to see a vibrant discussion happening– just a couple of facts I’ve picked up in the last few days to add to the situation:

    1. The owner of the Smith Building had a series of incidents with thoughtless, and sometimes offensive material sprayed onto his bricks in highly visible places. This is what prompted him to stay up until 1, when he’s reported to have heard the rattle of a spray can, alter the cops, and the chase/arrest occurred.

    2. The two people who were tagging were not the ones who had damaged the Smith Building. They were stenciling in the already painted, tagged, stickered, etc. alley of the Elbow room. They do not paint huge scrawls across businesses, but have a respect for the property, the surface, and businesses.

    3. A few years back, a local property owner’s downtown building was stenciled in an unobtrusive, artful manner, and he liked it. He got a ticket from the city for not cleaning the graffiti. The owner took the ticket to court, saying that he considered it art, and thought it added to his property. He was forced to pay the ticket, and remove the graffiti.

    And for the record– I hope to go to work tomorrow and see some 10 foot golden arches on VGKids. It would be totally reactionary, malicious, and thus completely different than the kind of street art I think we should be supporting, however:

    It would mean I live in a town of people that cares enough to take things into their own hands, to stand up and get things done. To stop waiting for someone else to solve our problems or fight for what we want, or have another meeting and then another so we can blur everything into mediocrity.

    And honestly, that’s what draws me to Ypsi. Golden arches on VG or not, I think we are that town.

  52. Posted March 26, 2009 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    “2. The two people who were tagging were not the ones who had damaged the Smith Building. They were stenciling in the already painted, tagged, stickered, etc. alley of the Elbow room. They do not paint huge scrawls across businesses, but have a respect for the property, the surface, and businesses.”

    So some people can break the law, presumably as long as they are white and educated and in your cool club.

  53. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    James M.,

    Thank you, first, for adding details and perspective.

    1) That explains why I walked around the Smith Bldg three times and couldn’t find the wolf. All I could find was traces of bulbous letters on white brick that obviously had been attempted to be but could not be fully removed. You describe that at thoughtless. I tend to agree. Others, commenting above, would appear to applaud it.

    2) I think the Elbow Room is ideal for graffiti. I think it benefits the Elbow. Which brings us to point three…

    3) I’ve been waiting for all of the discussion of protecting personal property to drift, rightly, into the rights of property owners to do what they want with their property. If it’s wrong to paint on someone else’s property, doesn’t it follow that it’s wrong to tell someone that they can’t paint what they want on their own? (I’m not looking for a simple yes or no, but it seems relevant to the discussion, don’t you think?)

    Finally, a couple parting shots:

    1) It would be totally reactionary, malicious, and thus completely different than the kind of street art I think we should be supporting

    I’d like to challenge the idea that deviant (among other forms) shouldn’t be reactionary. And I think some great art has been malicious. Which begs your question … what should we support?

    2) Since when is art something has to have popular support? I have to react, too, to Jean’s, and others, notion that “It’s good for business.” The whole idea that we should accept graffiti art because it’s “good for business” puts it on the level of billboards.

    I find the whole idea of sanctioning subversive art preposterous. The reason I t may have been lost, but the reason I want to paint arches on your windows is simply because if everything else is “good for business” or “supported” or “given a kiosk” that’s about the most truly radical thing I could think of doing.

    Seriously, can anyone here grasp how incredibly disappointing it is to hear comments defending graffiti because it’s good for business? It’s like wanting hippies to be elected because they’re good for war. Am I alone here?

  54. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

    I should add that part of my interest in this conversation is tainted by the fact that I am a former vandal. It seemed harmless and subversive until a friend crossed that line of conduct and I realized a) some poor sap’s life would be more difficult and unpleasant in the morning and b) everything I’d done would just make some poor sap’s life more difficult in the morning. And I realized it was all really so we could impress each other and feel good about ourselves.

    But, maybe I’m old now and just don’t get how drawing a tooth on other people’s shit is really an act of artistic revolution.

    This feeling only grew as I gained obligations and realized how difficult even mowing the lawn or shoveling the sidewalk could be any given week. This may be judgmental and self loathing, but I can’t help feel like much of graffiti is for folks to feel good about themselves at the expense of some poor sap whose life will be made more difficult in the morning.

    So, I’ve grown to hate graffiti, sorry, “street art.” It seems like huge potential for a circle jerk. It seems to say, “What I’m doing (by painting a love kitty) is more important than what you have to deal with, day in and day out.”

    And finally, to dig at Andy C again with the “Ypsi has no place for public art.”

    Bullshit. All you’re saying is there’s no one in Ypsi who is creative rather than imitative. There’s hundreds of ways to do art that don’t rely on stencils and aerosal. Sure, they’re mostly temporary, but so is graffiti. If the artists in the community are that unimaginative, they’re not artists. They’re kids who saw a web site and are doing paint-by-numbers in the round.

    Oh, I should also say, I’ve been drinking.

  55. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    By the way, sorry for the typos, missing and extra words. Did I mention I been drinking?

  56. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    What’s the occasion?

  57. Dirtgrain
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    “Have you ever noticed how anybody driving faster than you is an asshole and how anyone driving slower than you is a moron?” – George Carlin

    Graffiti Artist: “Building owner is a moron.”
    Building Owner: “Graffiti artis is an asshole.”

    Is there a washable, easily removed alternative to spray paint? That would be awesome. Graffiti could go up one day, and a simple hosing down could remove it (at some cost/labor, but not too bad?). Maybe we should raise money and put giant white boards or Etch-a-Sketchs on the downtown buildings.

  58. Posted March 27, 2009 at 3:05 pm | Permalink


    There *is* a washable and easily removable alternative to spray paint! It is called chalk and toy stores sell it in lots of colors. I have even let some kids I know decorate my sidewalk before

  59. Dirtgrain
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Chalk doesn’t apply well to all surfaces, and I’ve had trouble washing off chalk from brick in the past. But maybe it’s not as bad as I remember. Maybe it can be altered to be more versatile in terms of surfaces. But really, we need a spray-paint-like spray paint alternative. The romance of the sssssss, the paint characteristics of the spray–graffiti artists won’t be giving this up for chalk or white boards or Etch-a-Sketchs.

  60. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Dirtgrain, It even comes with free stencils.

  61. applejack
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    There is spray-can chalk out there, but I’ve never used it myself, so I’m not sure effective it is. Another great alternative to spray paint is to use wheat-paste to slap any poster or other paper art on most walls. I could be wrong but I think the ingredients are just wheat flour and water. It can stick around a long time if it’s out of the rain, but can be washed off without a ton of effort. A lot of great street art is put up with wheat-paste.

  62. Dirtgrain
    Posted March 28, 2009 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    Holy crap. Car Art sounds perfect–we’d just have to test it. Spray chalk is even cooler, the best of both worlds. Wheat-paste sounds nice and eco-friendly. Mark could write a grant, and we could acquire a stockpile of these items. Then it would be a question of how to get them into the right hands.

    I wonder what percentage of graffiti people would choose to still use regular spray paint.

  63. Posted March 28, 2009 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    All of them.

  64. Dirtgrain
    Posted March 28, 2009 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    What would that say about them?

  65. Posted March 28, 2009 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    It would say they are cockroaches.

  66. jean
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    So when I said “graffiti” is good for business I was trying to subvert the notion that it is ‘scary’ ergo bad. I was trying to present an image of a vibrant, expressive dynamic town that people would want to come check out… more so than one with a disney-like, candy-coated quaintness. It was not an obvious conclusion. …Like say, the idea that all business is bad.

  67. Jordan Miller
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    This is not in the interest of self-promotion (it doesn’t count as self-promotion if you no longer work there). But here’s a link to the story about the battle between Hedger Breed, the property owner to whom I assume James was referring, and the city over whether he had the right to leave a stencil that was put up on his building.

    Now that I no longer have to be objective about it, I can say that it seems ridiculous that a building owner cannot have any say over art on the outside walls of his property, while stores just down the street can fill their windows with advertisements.


  68. Posted August 2, 2009 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Long live guerilla art!

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Art? « PPNA Happenings on March 26, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    […] by ppna on March 26, 2009 Over on the Mark Maynard site there is a lot of discussion about the graffiti ‘artists’ that were arrested the other […]

  2. […] guess, because I’ve written about the fuzzy line separating street art and vandalism before, I received a letter a few days ago from a local designer asking about the legality of […]

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