Unemployment, Pop Culture Blamed for Graffiti Boom

Monday, 18 Jul 2011 03:38 PM

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Graffiti, a blight once restricted mainly to major urban centers such as New York and Chicago, is making its way into smaller cities in America. Cities such as Nashville and Portland, Ore., as well as Florence, Ala.; Reserve, N.M.; and Taylors, S.C., are experiencing the tags that some aficionados contend are art, The New York Times reported.

Graffiti, unemployment, pop culture“It’s popped up all of a sudden in the last six months,” Tim Sandrell, the owner of Safari Adventures in Hair in Florence, with a population between 36,000 and 37,000. “I’ve been downtown for 10 years, and I’m really disappointed that we are seeing this kind of activity. We have a beautiful city and an historic city, and it’s really upsetting to me seeing this going on.”

The graffiti binge has renewed debate over whether putting the colorful displays in museums contributes to urban blight and whether the resurgence might be related to high unemployment rates and the poor shape of the economy.

Tim Francis, a supervisor for the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, told the Times there had been a rash of tagging on park signs, underpasses, and on the parkway. One large city that also has seen an uptick is Los Angeles, where the unemployment rate was 11 percent in May. The city removed 35.4 million square feet of graffiti for the fiscal year, an 8.2 percent jump over last year.

A number of officials place blame the economy for idling teenagers and contributing to a sense of malaise and anxiety.

“People know the cops aren’t around or they are working on other stuff,” said Bobby Shriver, a member of the Santa Monica City Council. Others, including police, see a glamorization of graffiti that makes wealthy heroes of such practitioners such as Marc Ecko or Banksy or Shepard Fairey and launch graffiti exhibits in museums, the Times reported.

“It’s because of the pop culture,” Ramona Findley, a Los Angeles police detective who heads the department’s graffiti task force, told the paper. “It’s very interesting: With your violent crime going down, it seems like your mischievous crime is going up. The art world has accepted it. People make money from graffiti T-shirts. I was in Walmart on Easter, and I saw graffiti Easter eggs.”

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