City Paper is not for tourists
D.C. has a long tradition of graffiti, from the Red Line bombers and Cool “Disco” Dan to Borf and the current of “street artists,” who have one foot in galleries and the other on the pavement. But no matter how much graffiti evolves, two things have mostly stayed constant: It’s a primarily wall-based medium, and it remains, in large part, an art form inherently opposed to authority. Two similar street art projects that emerged this year bucked that trend: They were sprayed on the ground and, even more heretically, they appealed to their viewers to be more responsible citizens. One was a series of pedestrian-aimed sidewalk stencils near an 11th Street NW playground popular with Columbia Heights children that warned street-crossers to “Look Both Ways.” The other was a sustained project involving dozens of stamps in the city’s bike lanes, with messages ranging from “Make Us Bicyclists Look Good” to “Your Bike Is Sexy.” When graffiti is being deployed to foster good civic behavior, it may seem to have lost its danger, but these stamps—especially the bike-lane ones—disrupted the urban environment with a wink while side-eying another kind of authority: motorists’.