Beall: Cracking down on art

BY MIKE BEALL | JUNE 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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As part of a new summer initiative, the Iowa City police are cracking down on graffiti. They hope that their new plans, which involve putting to work kids from the juvenile-court system and a city youth program, will help to erase graffiti more quickly than in the past.    

But should the city crack down on graffiti?

Some people see graffiti as a public nuisance or find the stuff visually unappealing. But whether it conforms to personal or institutional tastes, graffiti are art forms that have gained much prestige in the art community in the last few decades. Graffiti artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Banksy have had a huge impact on art in our time, and many other successful artists have started out in graffiti.

Aside from the standing illegality of vandalism, one strong reason graffiti is looked down upon as an art form is because of the perception that it is connected with other criminal activity. But this is a false accusation. While graffiti and more dangerous crime can be correlated, one does not cause the other. Criminals do not see graffiti and then believe that they have a green light to commit crime.

With respect to the plans in place in Iowa City, I find it disturbing that these youths are being corralled into anti-graffiti brigades to scrub away what is essentially art, especially as art education becomes increasingly marginalized by today’s society. Art can be an important way to express one’s self, especially for those in the juvenile-court system who may feel alienated by the system they are in, the adults in charge of them, and the work they are being made to do. 

To counteract these problems, the city and business owners should invest in a creative outlet for these kids and any other aspiring local graffiti artists. They should encourage more public art by creating public-art walls and getting artists to paint pieces or large murals on the side of their businesses. 

Public-art walls would be controversial, and there is some question about whether such a program could succeed. But the main reason it has failed in other cities was because the cities do not invest enough in the project and only make a few small legal walls. Iowa City would have to invest heavily in creating legal walls throughout the city.

There are already several murals in downtown. More business owners reaching out to local artists to create murals on their businesses would create a more vibrant, colorful atmosphere that would add to the local art scene and the culture of our city. Not only would it be visually more appealing than blank walls, but businesses would have a say in what would be allowed to be painted on their buildings. 

Investing in public art could be very helpful to the youths being used in graffiti removal. The removal of graffiti is teaching could them responsibility and work ethic, but being involved in the creation of art could do a great deal more.

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