We're beginning to see such a model develop in other countries, as in Brisbane, Australia where local officials are creating a database of commissioned street art so it won't be buffed along with illegal tags. By the time that city develops criteria and processes for getting street art on the list, they'll be halfway to implementing a version of the idea I'm suggesting, Necessity as always being the Mother of Invention.
A prototypical Texan example of this idea may now be found under I-30 in the Deep Ellum District in Dallas, perhaps suggesting a tentative model and certainly some great publicity for the idea of invited graff in public spaces. Called the Deep Ellum Pillar Park, according to the Pegasus News Wire,
The objective of this project is to add artwork to 30 of the TxDOT highway columns under I-75 along Good Latimer Expressway, Canton Street, and Commerce Street. The mural images on the columns will be 11 feet high and will represent the unique work of local mural artists. All of the proposed mural images are free from representations of hate, sex, and violence. The artwork will incorporate images that display the musical, industrial, historical, artistic, and futuristic elements of Deep Ellum, as well as a special mural by the Dallas Police Department painted by a Dallas Police Officer. ...
The artists are: Frank Campagna, Tyson Summers, Dan Colcer (ed note: whose art is depicted upper left), Judith Lea Perkins, Clint Scism, Issac Davies, Jerod Davies, Richard Ross, Jose Sparks Ramirez, Amber Campagna, and Dallas Police Officer Cat Lafitte.A charity, the Deep Ellum Foundation, sponsored the project, and since TXDOT approved it they must have worked out some mechanism for granting such permission: This is welcome news, and I hope they do it much more often. The Dallas News picked up the story because of the last contributor listed above, Police Officer Cat Lafitte, who received this glowing profile in the paper. Laffiite said she requested and was given permission to join the artists selected to put murals on pylons, wrote Nancy Visser at the News, because though she is only 31:
she longs for the 1950s, when the nostalgic public image of law enforcement was the friendly neighborhood patrol officer. It's different now, she said. People spit or glare when she and her partner pass in a patrol car.The Fraternal Order of Police paid for most of the materials for the mural, which includes the advice, "Hug your Mama cuz I guarantee you were a turd when you were 2." According to the News, "Lafitte's request to paint was approved by her supervisors pending review of the final image. The painting is complete except for the words 'Dallas Police Department' and any detail that identifies the person as a Dallas officer." (Photos of Cat Lafitte's art from Jim Mahoney of the Dallas News.)
So when Lafitte spotted artists painting pillars under the freeway at Deep Ellum, she asked for her own pillar to paint the portrait of a police officer with the message "Dallas Police Department Welcomes You to Deep Ellum."
"I know the law-abiding people don't hate us, but just dealing with the criminal element, we get a lot of hate," she said. "If I could plant one little seed in someone's head that the police are the good guys, I would consider myself to be successful in this deal."
Lafitte, who was an art/science major in college, intends her artwork to be a positive gesture but plans to cover it with an anti-graffiti clear coat to make it easier to wash off any vandalism. She hopes that won't be necessary.
Motorists passing through the intersection at Good-Latimer Expressway and Canton Street, where she was working last week, honked and gave her the thumbs-up.
corporate) messengers or politically-correct messages, and not only because positive press and possibly even official police approval for the project could encourage TXDOT administrators and others to follow suit. It's part of a slow but steady trend of street art pushing its way into the mainstream in ways that even the most powerful politicians must acknowledge, even as they bad-mouth tagging in general.
A good example was jingoistic graffiti painted on the side of a California highway: The Governator himself wound up apologizing when it was buffed by state highway crews. Two days later, Grits mentioned at the time, two men "repainted the flag and released their names to the press. Bizarrely, the news report I read said that the flag's repainting proved 'that good, old-fashioned American ingenuity and the can-do spirit are not dead.' Of course, isn't the same true of every tagger who revisits a crime scene after authorities buff it?" But bottom line, if the state is going to allow art with pro-government and pro-police messages, the First Amendment will arguably, ultimately require them to allow images with an array of messages. Once the allure of the medium becomes mainstreamed, changes in the laws governing it cannot be far behind.
These days, internationally known artists who began their careers (and made their names) illegally writing on walls are now celebrated in prominent museums and galleries. Cities are hiring artists to decorate areas with street art that elsewhere was put up illegally. What's more, America's over-reliance on the automobile and the need for urban utility infrastructure and drainage control has left us with thousands of gray concrete walls across the nation just begging some one to paint them. And all the while we're wasting officers' time tracking down a handful of the most prolific taggers, at least some of whom might be diverted to permitted venues if they include good, high-visibility locations and the incentive that their work won't be soon buffed out of existence (Rapid cleanup is a much more effective deterrent than arrests, which in practice occur so infrequently they don't provide meaningful incentive, no matter how harsh the punishment.)
On my recent trip in Europe, some of the street art we saw was of exceptionally high quality, particularly in Barcelona and Berlin, while we also saw plenty of more workaday tags. Some street art is excellent, more frequently it's mediocre or poor; just like not every singer is Jackie Evancho, every tagger isn't Banksy. Indeed, Officer Lafitte's aphorisms (see below) aren't exactly high-end philosophy. OTOH, what's so great about a gray concrete pillar?