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Yesterday’s Washington Post included a rather intriguing, albeit buried, fact about D.C. graffiti. The number of reported graffiti works has dwindled substantially in the past year.
Last fiscal year, the Public Works Department reported 1,948 incidents of graffiti on the buildings it monitors, spokeswoman Nancee Lyons said. This fiscal year, as of June, the department had received 695 incident reports, a significant decline.
The article points to the MuralsDC program, which enlists “writers” to paint oft-tagged walls around the city, as a possible reason for the drop.
Back in the fall of 2007, I wrote a story about teenage graffiti artists, and the city’s historic—-you know,dating back to the early 1990s—-graffiti culture. Those were the days! Taggers would come from all over to paint in the “The Art Under Pressure Tunnel” in Southwest DC. Sure, it was illegal, and occasionally the police came out to bust the graffiti artists. But, today, thanks to Osama bin Laden and 9/11, there are heavy duty surveillance cameras in the writers’ favorite, aforementioned tunnel. And thanks to gentrification, there are more people calling in graffiti in the neighborhoods.
What’s a teenage artist to do? Be pissed. Tag on.
But what’s a councilmember to do? In July 2007, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham’s office initiated an anti-graffiti program. “He secured money for the hiring of 27 ex-offenders to bolster the city’s graffiti-removal ranks. He also kicked off a wall mural program, which would designate graffiti-targeted and alley clean-up spaces in the city as places for murals,” I wrote in the initial article.
At that point, I wasn’t so sure, the program would make any kind of impact. Here’s what I wrote:
But is government-sanctioned graffiti really graffiti? At least one writer at the taggers’ meeting seemed to have other leanings. SEREN is a teenage girl from Northwest, who’s been dreaming of spray painting the city for about a year but hasn’t yet worked up the nerve.
It’s not that she’s freaking out about getting caught; she just wants her style to be straight, not some ludicrous amateurish crap, before she hits the streets. To her, the whole concept of graffiti—especially here in the nation’s capital, it seems—symbolizes something greater: ignoring the government’s omnipresent, paranoia-driven demands to get in line. She talks about the Patriot Act, fear tactics, all that “bullshit.”
“One day, my friend and I were talking, [saying] we’re going to hit up the White House and the Washington Monument,” she says. “When I see my name, I’ll be so proud.”
Sound like the voice of kid who wants to work on government-sanctioned murals?
Who knows? Maybe.