Re: Graffiti Discussion at the MFAH

Sean Carroll shares this dispatch from last night’s forum:

Last night at the Museum of Fine Arts Councilmember Sue Lovell pledged the entire city budget for graffiti removal- $2 million- to purchase property for writers to use prosecution free if they will, quote, “stop”. In conversation with Houston graff writer ARTICLE Lovell compared writers to dogs pissing on walls and also admitted to spraypainting SILENCE = DEATH stencils during the 1980s AIDS campaign. Her attempt to negotiate directly with ARTICLE for the compliance of all local writers was quickly dashed by Director of the Community Artists´ Collective Michelle Barnes who reminded the Councilmember that ARTICLE “only speaks for himself”.

Despite heckling from the crowd Lovell persisted in reinerating property values rights over the theoretical arguements of Contemporary Arts Museum Houston curator Valerie Cassel Oliver and Spectrum Dance Theater Artistic Director Donald Byrd that graffiti is a cultural symptom rather than a direct function of a lack of free wall space. While no member of the panel directly confronted Lovell on her plan, the hope of negotiating with hundreds of teenagers and several fractious political groups of writers to stop graffiti in Houston is an impossible task representing a lack of understanding of the problem coupled with the insinuation that she could convince the other City Council members to shell out $2 million to purchase property for artists to use for mural painting.

The councilwoman encouraged citizens to call and write her office to follow up on her proposed city space to graffiti artists at: 713-960-1601 or

Feel free to let the mayor know what you think of the plan at: 713.247.2200 or

? Got anything to add? Hit up the comments section.

  • Gritsforbreakfast

    I’m surprised and interested to hear that the folks in Houston doing graffiti – “hundreds of teenagers and several fractious political groups” – are collectively identifiable enough to where anybody could remotely contemplate “negotiating.” I agree such a ploy’s success seems unlikely. Still, just the thought implies that the Councilwoman believes that graffiti artists in Houston constitute a coherent community that self-identifies enough to enter into such a partnership.

    Leaving aside for a moment the graffiti wall proposal, this suggestion raises two questions to my mind: 1) Is her assumption true, is it just a fantasy by another would-be law enforcer, or is it partially true, with some number of freelancers who don’t so identify? and 2)If the correct answer to question one is the first or third suggestion, does this raise possibilities for collective politcal action BESIDES negotiating over access public spaces, and if so on what topics? Or is that already happening? (Note to Dirty 3rd: more on these “fractious political groups,” please.)

    Very interesting. I’d have liked to have heard the discussion. If someone recorded it, I hope they’ll post it online.

  • Dirty3rd

    Hey Grits, I’ve sent your comment to Sean. Hopefully he’ll have something more to say, but I assume what he’s talking about when he references fractious political groups is the way most graff kids belong to one crew or another, which is basically just a group of friends, but problems arise when, faced with limited spots to hit, groups begin writing on top of each other, which inevitably leads to a gang-like mentality, which in itself I find kind of fascinating, since many graff writers see painting as an end in itself — i.e. not a marking of territory for other purposes — but over time it can evolve very much into a territorial thing.

    Here’s a short clip of the discussion.

  • b.s.

    First and foremost, the idea is onerus because any any attention paid to the subject makes graff more visible, encouraging more graffiti as well as creating an imaginary ‘pie’ that is at stake for the most prolific and stupid to vie for.

    The first ‘political’ situation that the scene is made up of cells independant of each other who grow through close friendships established outside the genre; small groups that gain knowledge through imitation and emulation. There are more than enough graffiti movies, books, and pop culture refernces to snag some part of the population.

    The second political situation is the competition among groups who know each other. Strongly established groups seek other scenes out, crisscrossing the northside, 3rd ward, downtown, montrose, and the west side in search of people to pick on, going into their territory to assert dominance.

    Compounding the situation, most taggers begin by age 13 or so, and corralling young teenagers is LITERALLY impossible. There are too many of them and, as stated, making graff more visible makes it more lucrative.

    The loners, dysfunctional households, and irreverence towards authority that produces taggers of the ‘artist’ variety would ignore the situation, whatever it is.

    Whether outdoor or indoor, the proposed free space would be ‘negotiated’ with a group that would not be the whole of the fractured and alienated community; some part of the excluded parties would attack the works by others.

  • Dirty3rd

    What city council also doesn’t seem to understand is that legal walls are in many ways antithetical to graffiti. There are already plenty of hidden places – abandoned buildings, concrete bayous, railroad bridges – where graff artists go to paint without hindrance. Yet the tags still pop up all over town.

    The streets are a site for visual resistance. Granted, most graff artists might not think in such terms – they’re more concerned with getting up and, when it comes down to it, seeing their works in their daily travels, deriving joy from changing the landscape much like an architect would – but no proper graff artist would limit himself to legal walls. If he did, he’d just be a muralist.

    And really, a lot of work on legal walls is kind of lame, if you ask me. It just ends up looking like airbrush art out of a car magazine. I actually like the quick scrawls, the expressiveness that comes with a limited amount of time and a rush of adrenaline.

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  • http://na jews

    ya to bad he’s a fucking snitch !!!!He’s sueing his friends moutherfucker fucker was on tv talking to cops answering ??? after ?? I laughted when he got arreated It was funny and ironic that some who gave cops info on tv about houstons graffiti life get busted for puttig up signs ahahahahhahahahhahahahhahahahhahahhathen he sues um ahahhahahahhahahahhahah what a joke I’ll keep trucking over here writing on everything and maybe one I’ll get rich one day!!!

When: January 12, 2007

Where: Houston

What: ,

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