OAKLAND -- The California Penal Code classifies unauthorized graffiti as "vandalism" -- a crime that can cost the offender a sizable fine or even jail time.
But Estria Miyashiro, of Oakland, a veteran of the graffiti art movement for more than two decades, hopes to change skeptics' minds about graffiti and those who practice it.
Three years ago, he launched the "Estria Invitational Graffiti Battle," a now nationally recognized competition in which respected graffiti artists from across the U.S. compete for the top title.
The 2010 edition of the battle, held Sunday in deFremery Park in West Oakland, gave about 5,000 residents and curiosity seekers a chance to interact with graffiti artists and see them in action, organizers said.
"Graffiti has two sides to it: destruction and creation," said the 42-year-old Miyashiro. "I'm trying to promote the creation side of it."
"I don't like seeing it (graffiti) on buildings and cars," said Trina Rockefeller, an Oakland resident who watched the battle. "But this is a safe place where they can express themselves."
Francisco "Twick" Aquino, a contestant in Sunday's competition, has ambitions similar to Miyashiro's.
"Graffiti has a bad name," Aquino said. "We're trying to represent the art form of it today."
When he's not preparing for the next graffiti battle, Aquino works with the Street SmARTS program, a San Francisco effort that educates youths about public art and murals versus graffiti vandalism.
Patti White, who attended the competition with neighbor John Sander, said she encounters graffiti everyday, especially in West Oakland where she lives. She said she appreciates public murals and even will seek them out when traveling. But for White, there is a distinction between "tagging" -- the description for illegal spray painting of private property -- and sanctioned graffiti or murals in public spaces.
Jaime "Vyal" Reyes' graffiti design, which features a soaring bird and reads "Oil spills, blood spills, time to heal," earned him the winning trophy in Sunday's competition. Reyes, who lives in Los Angeles and volunteers at Self Help Graphics & Art, a Latino community arts center there, welcomed the battle as an opportunity to meet people who aren't familiar with his work.
"My intent today is to change people's mind about graffiti," Reyes said. "Graffiti is a nonviolent victimless crime. At this event, people can interact with the artists and realize they aren't someone to be fearful of."
Taken from: Contracosta Times
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