Last week, Amarillo, a city of about 200,000 located in the Texas Panhandle, passed an aggressive anti-graffiti ordinance in an effort to curtail rampant graffiti activity. Here’s a quick summary:
- Property owners have 15 days to clean up graffiti after it’s been reported.
- Within the first five days, property owners can accept help from the City in removing the graffiti.
- It is now illegal for a minor to possess aerosol paint of any sort, an engraving device or an indelible marker. Parents or guardians of a child under the age of 17 could be held responsible for their children’s actions if they violate anti-graffiti laws. There are exceptions.
Take Back The Wall and Cadillac Ranch
The ordinance goes into effect May 18, and the following day, volunteers will gather for Take Back the Wall, a citywide graffiti clean up day. The event’s tag line is “Graffiti Is Not Art, It Is A Crime.” The project includes a high school art contest designed to inspire and encourage students to prevent and eliminate graffiti in Amarillo.
Amarillo is home to a famous public art installation, Cadillac Ranch, which is colored wildly with graffiti. I remember seeing this several times as a kid driving through Texas with my dad. Back then, the graffiti artists had not made their mark on it yet.
A Couple Of Issues
There are a couple of issues I see with Amarillo’s ordinance. First of all, graffiti is against the law and that makes it a crime, but graffiti (not gang tagging) is art. This has been widely debated by art historians at prestigious universities the world over, so to blatantly market the launch of an anti-graffiti ordinance in this manner really doesn’t seem prudent.
Take Back the Wall is an event for volunteers not graffiti artists. They don’t have to convince volunteers that graffiti is bad. They already don’t like it or they wouldn’t give their time to clean it up. So, all they’re doing with that dissing tag line is embittering the graffiti artists who take their work seriously. A better tag line would have been exactly the opposite:
Graffiti Might Be Art, But It’s Still A Crime.
Speaking of dissing, below is an image I shot recently of some graffiti in Oklahoma City’s permission zone in Automobile Alley. Funny, I was told by a graffiti artist that the person who did this did not have permission to do it. Of course, what he was really saying was that this graffiti is not of the caliber of talent frequently on display in the permission zone. I’d have to agree, but hey, no dissing allowed.
The second issue I have with Amarillo’s ordinance is the portion about kids 17 and under in possession of graffiti paraphernalia. Research shows that most graffiti artists range in age between 12 and 30. Perpetuating stereotypes of graffiti artists probably won’t do much to narrow the field of culprits.
Street Cultures and Skateboarders
Finally, all my appreciation for street culture talents in Oklahoma City has clearly not spread to the punk posses of urban skateboarding enthusiasts who have been using Heritage Hills porches, stairs and railing lately to fly through the air and perform skateboarding stunts. On Easter Sunday, four white youth interrupted our pleasant Easter egg hunt when they trespassed on my neighbor’s property a few houses away. When we asked them if they knew the people who lived there, they flipped us off, cussed us out and sped away. Nice boys. I couldn’t help but think just a few short years ago they were probably hunting Easter eggs.
So, we didn’t call the police. The boys sped off in their Cube and I dismissed it as a random act. But, then on Friday evening as I was coming home from work, I saw four different white youth doing the exact same thing on a different neighbor’s porch, stairs and railing. Like the other boys, they were videotaping themselves. When I stopped and told them they shouldn’t be skating on my neighbor’s porch and stairs, they flipped me off and cussed me out and turned the video camera on me. I always have my camera with me, so I decided turnabout was fair play. They didn’t think that was funny and told me it was against the law to take their picture. Now, that is funny.
About 10 minutes after this incident, I decided to go photograph a makeshift skateboarding park in The Paseo, which is right in the vicinity of the “Everything Will Be OK” graffiti exhibit I photographed a few months ago. Those same boys were skateboarding there and they seriously thought I was stalking them, but that didn’t stop them from getting right in my face and calling me a few select words.
Graffiti and skateboarding represent two distinct subcultures that wrestle with disenfranchisement. Sometimes, they clash, but they go hand-in-hand. Both involve raw forms of expression and both represent artistic skills and talents. It begs the question about disenfranchisement. Were they disenfranchised because they expressed themselves or in expressing themselves did they become disenfranchised? It seems like a question worth asking, especially if you’re a parent in Amarillo getting a call about your kid being in possession of a fat cap.