Sunday, August 22, 2010

Texas program aims to use art to prevent graffiti

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — In the late summer heat, the teenagers gathered in the large concrete spillway that's the main water depository for the 19th Street Dam — and a favorite spot of graffiti taggers. Some of those taggers were among the group. Police had arrested four of them for spray painting here last March.

But this time, the teens held paintbrushes, not aerosol cans, as part of the city's latest effort to curb tagging and illegal graffiti.

The program, called Art in Action, brought together about 20 aspiring young artists — mostly boys, and two girls — from high schools across the city.

Starting in late June, they met at Our Lady of the Lake University for art classes three times a week. They took gallery tours and made silk-screen prints.

They also painted six murals on the spillway walls. The pieces, each 9 by 16 feet, depict Chicano history, San Antonio, the environment and the river.

In the larger sense, the murals, and the program, reflect a more proactive approach to graffiti prevention, said Lisa McKenzie, head of the city's graffiti abatement department.

From Jan. 1 to early June, police were called to 814 cases of graffiti, which yielded 160 arrests — not including graffiti incidents classified as criminal mischief.

City Council District 5, where the 19th Street Dam is, had the second-highest number of cases and arrests.Normally, young offenders are forced to paint over the graffiti. In this situation, "they also made a contribution," McKenzie said.

But the long-term goal of this program — to show the teens they can make art without defacing public property — was perhaps the more difficult one to impart.

"I guess people think (graffiti) it's a bad thing, but not really," said Giovanni Gomez, 15, an upcoming Jefferson High School junior, who signed up for the program at a teacher's suggestion.

"I don't think it's really gonna help," he said. "I don't think it's gonna stop people from doing what they're doing."

Bernardo Mata, 18, can't remember how or when he came to hold his first can of spray paint.

"It just bounced in my life outta nowhere," the soon-to-be Lanier High School senior said.

Jacob Martinez, 16, followed in the footsteps of an uncle, perfecting his tagging technique and drawing abilities in black sketchbooks whose pages pop with pictures, designs and colors.

Joaquin Arias started tagging phone poles, bus stops and bus windows with markers before graduating to spray paint in the eighth grade.

Eventually, he learned to stretch his $20 weekly allowance into a few markers, a couple of aerosol cans and some food.

"It's kind of addicting," said Joaquin, 16. "One day, you start tagging with a marker, and you wanna keep doing that."

It's difficult to put a cap on graffiti, a longstanding part of the urban landscape, said Jane Madrigal, an artist and muralist, who led the Art in Action program.

The students constantly write their "tag" names in the graffiti style, which to the untrained eye can look like a strange collection of Cubist-like characters or senseless scribble. The students tag their backpacks, their notebooks, even the butcher paper that covered their tables in the OLLU art department.

Rachel Robison, 15, was one of the few students in class who isn't a graffiti enthusiast.

"I just thought it would be interesting, to learn more about different types of art," the O'Connor sophomore said of her decision to join the class. Graffiti is "cool to look at," she said, but she added, "some of the people don't want to do anything but graffiti."

Once, Madrigal forced some of the boys to repaint a spillway wall around the corner from the murals because the students tagged it while goofing off.

But these aren't just rowdy teenagers, she said. They are, quite simply, bored.

"The reality is, most of them have nothing to do," Madrigal said.

Of the program, Jacob said: "It's pretty fun. Everyone here is cool. I'd rather be here than home."

Graffiti sometimes can be viewed as a stepping stone to other crimes, like petty theft or vehicle burglary. More often, it's a way for young people who may not have support at home to get recognition, said police Sgt. Andy Hernandez, co-chair of an group formed last year.

"It's obvious when we've dealt with these kids, they tell us, 'I've been a latchkey kid, my mom's never home, I don't have a dad,'" Hernandez said. "They just don't get enough attention."

Wherever the teens tag, they want a lot of eyes on their work.

"I try to get the busy streets, so if anybody's in the car, they can see my name," Joaquin said.

Not everyone in the class has tagged illegally. Both Joaquin and Bernardo are among the four students who were arrested for tagging the spillway last spring and took the class as a way to fulfill part of their probation.

But Jacob, who Madrigal considers one of the more serious artistic talents in the class, says he tries to resist the urge to illegally tag, especially after a police officer caught him spray painting a wall near Ingram Park Mall. The officer let him go.

The pressure remains.

"I won't do it if I'm alone," he said. "But if someone says, 'Hey, I have a can,' it's hard not to scribble on something."

As the program wrapped up in mid-August, Bernardo stood atop a ladder putting the finishing touches on one of the murals, painting a turtle's shell.

"I actually thought this (the program) was gonna be pretty cool but actually it's better," Bernardo said.
Madrigal has seen a change in him since the summer began. Once, all she got was attitude. Now he, Joaquin and the two other court-mandated teens are her most reliable students.

For the first time in his life, Bernardo wants to go to college. He's even asked Madrigal about scholarships to OLLU.

"I really didn't want to, but seeing other people want to go makes me want to," he said.
Joaquin figures he'll grow out of graffiti eventually.

"I'll already be like an adult, and I'll have to get life together, and stop playing around," he said. About the rest of the future, Joaquin shrugs. He doesn't know what he wants yet.

But what about the program's ultimate goal? Will he and the other participants continue to tag?

The ideal answer would be no, McKenzie said, but "we're realistic and we know that may not happen." What's more important is "to give kids an outlet, a positive outlet," she said.

Several teens have asked if the class will be offered again. She and Madrigal have talked about starting an after-school program.

At the very least, painting the murals likely will ensure the walls of the spillway remain graffiti-free, she said.

"It is about graffiti abatement, but it's like one wall at a time," Madrigal said.

Joaquin agreed. Taggers will leave the murals alone.

"Because that's somebody else's work," he said.

Source: Chron

If you liked the post, CLICK HERE to subscribe our feed and receive all the news about the blog!

0 comment(s):

Find us on Facebook

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...