Graffiti Free or Sanctioned Walls Vignettes from All Over
The concept of sanctioned walls has occurred in over 100 US cities in the last decade
They don't work! I have surveyed over 100 cities since 1985 and aerosol art programs act as magnets to graffiti artist who hone their skills and use organized programs to hook-up. Brush painted murals or traditional art has had success, especially when it is planned and supported by the community its in. If its aerosol artist being converted to brush painted art work, its a mixed bag!
I was on the Board of Directors to the "Los Angeles Mural Conservancy" from 1987-1992 and my involvement of time was largely spent on removing graffiti from sanctioned professional murals. The Olympic Murals from the 1984 Los Angeles Event, were a constant target. Judy Baca of SPARC also had dozens of her professional murals tagged.
From Spence's program, in Philadelphia, to Pysco City in San Francisco, the Huntington Beach seawall and another hundred sites all in time failed. Positive Alternatives for Youth in Pacoima CA has a current program run by Manny Velasquez, a former co-worker of mine from COMMUNITY YOUTH GANG SERVICES PROJECT, a non profit we both worked for in the mid 1980s and he admits successes, but more failures, as he tries to transition graffiti artist to traditional artist.
At one time CAL-TRANS offered to give me freeway walls for an exchange, if writers would stop tagging the rest of the freeway system. I suspect I may of been the only one, to ever get this writing. I tried to negotiate with these graf artist and they promised one thing to me, while telling my gang labor staff at CYGS, that they were lying to get the privilege, while planning to go on tagging the system. After that I abandoned the belief that such an effort could be successful.
Free walls accomplish several things. The first thing they do is give graffiti VANDALS a safe place to network. The second thing they do is send the mixed message that graffiti is wrong, graffiti is a blight, graffiti is an eyesore. Oh wait, unless you do it over here, then it's okay. The last thing is free walls don't work because they are "free." Confusing? The main motivation of the graffiti subculture is the illegal nature of it. They aren't content to use legal walls only. In every instance I have observed, the neighborhood surrounding the legal wall become collateral damage. Free walls? There's nothing free about the problem they are going to cause you.
Commanding Officer, NYPD Vandal Squad (retired)
Unfortunately I have a free wall in Saskatoon I have been trying to
close for years and it has been a horrible failure. We have started the
process of closing the wall project down.
This has been an ongoing debate for as long as I have been investigating and prosecuting graffiti, Free walls does one thing, it attracts other vandals to the area. Why would you want to bring the criminal element to your community. In every case I have seen, the surrounding community near the graffiti wall sees over 1000% increase in graffiti to their neighborhood. Graffiti walls are not free, they cost you, and they will cost you big dollars. The Venice Pit in California was a prime example of an area that gave in to the vandals, let them paint murals, then over the years, the vandals defaced all the murals so that not one of the originals could be seen. They tagged the trash cans, bleachers, trees, sidewalk, chain link fence, every vertical wall in the pit was covered in hundreds of layers of paint. Then to top it off, each road leading into the beach area was tagged, EVERY home, fence, garage door, sign, tree, sidewalk... you get the picture? There is no respect in vandals, they have no respect for any property, and you want to invite them to your community? I think that people who keep trying these free walls, should be taken to court and prosecuted for the damage they bring to the community.
Randy Campbell (CHP Retired)
Beautiful Losers" Exibition-Triennale At the exhibition
there was a robot / writer who sprayed on a wall with a can the
California. The “Homeland” murals
program, run by Dixie Swift and the Los Angeles Mural
Conservancy. Dixie Swift’s team leaders were writers who
had turned the murals program into a networking operation among
graffiti writers. The two employees were arrested, and it
was “a political hush hush.” (Jay Beswick) The Denver,
Colorado. Denver utilized a flood control wall with
abutments as a graffiti sanctioned wall. In 1991, Amy Ling
of the Mayor’s Office spoke at an anti-graffiti conference where
she detailed the failure of this operation. (Jay Beswick)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “Program with Jane Golden and Spence was not the success that they claimed, and when Spence died of aides, a major part of that program was dismantled. It was political, not successful.” (Jay Beswick)
Huntington Beach, California. Nice idea but then the taggers coming to see the wall tagged the neighborhoods around the wall and also the kids just started tagging the wall without permits that were required. (Randy Campbell) “…tried using sea walls at the beach for ‘approved graffiti zones’, but they soon had businesses and residents complaining because of the near-area vandalism the zones brought. Eventually the program was scrapped.” (Jay Beswick)
Venice Beach, California. (The pit). This is the most well known…the area was buffed clean, then a contest was organized and the entire area done with beautiful murals….later, the vandals came and they have tagged over the murals and destroyed the area. What started as a nice project turned the area into a slum. (Randy Campbell)
San Fernando Valley, California. Levitz Furniture Store. The sanctioned wall not only caused damage to other walls and trees on the same property, but to every building or structure within a mile of the wall. It was a magnet for every untalented writer. (Jay Beswick) (An amature, but very impressive video is available on this site)
California. “Psycho City or Cycle City was
probably the largest free wall in the northern
hemisphere…Graffiti vandals came from all over the world just to
tag and to take pictures of themselves with their tag in Psycho
City. All of the streets leading into and out of Psycho
City were covered with tags from vandals drawn to the West
Coast’s Mecca of graffiti. It started with one wall on
Plumbers’ Union Hall and spread to an area that covered over two
square blocks from top to bottom…this was on Market Street…only
5 blocks from City Hall.
The Aldeen Dam, located in a Rockford Park, was previously a
place where high school students, with a permit, could spend all
night decorating the walls with boasts about their schools.
In July, 1997, with the arrival of hip-hop taggers in Rockford,
the Aldeen Dam became entirely dominated by hip-hop taggers
only. Almost all graffiti at Aldeen is done by the same
taggers and crews that vandalize the residences, businesses,
billboards, railroad cars, and signage of Rockford.
Further, the number of tags at Aldeen is proportionate to a crew
or tagger’s frequency of vandalism on the streets of Rockford.
This fact alone would seem to disprove the claim that a “free
wall” might be an effective tool to combat graffiti.
Aldeen also displays the “spread-to-all-adjacent-areas”
characteristic which other free walls manifest: at Aldeen,
in the areas adjacent to the free wall, there is graffiti on
light poles, the grass, trees, the parking lot, trash
containers, park benches, and walking trails through the woods.
The following comments were received as a result of our discussions on free walls from a very involved Law Enforcement officer specializing in tagger suppression.........
When I was a part of the team in the Long Beach undercover sting operation, I suggested an area of free walls back in 1991. None of the taggers were interested. The reasons why they were not interested:
1 The "establishment" was making them conform to rules.
I hope the folly of free walls begins to sink in, those
people that say it is a success often times hide the disaster it
causes. I would like to visit a city the size of LA and
see where a free wall concept is working. Whats really working
and not working may boil down to from whose perspective.
Project supports graffiti
Graffiti wall in Scott Carpenter park is brainchild of two local teenagers
By Halle Shilling
The 100-foot legal graffiti wall alongside Rich's Roadhouse is workable, but the uneven brick surface is not ideal for the best spray-paint art.
"The indents between the brick can sometimes mess you up," said Winston Cressman, 18. "They change the lines. It's harder to get real clean edges."
Which is why Cressman is looking forward to a new 40-foot long, 7-foot high art wall completed Tuesday near the skateboard park at Scott Carpenter park.
"The new wall is concrete, which is better," he said. The wall, estimated to cost $4,600, is the brainchild of Cressman and his friend Jory Rabinovitz, 16.
"We felt like there weren't many places really, in our area to paint and we felt it was necessary to have a legal place where kids could paint without getting in trouble and express themselves," Cressman said.
It was made possible by a grant from the Youth Opportunities Advisory Board. Rabinovitz first wrote a proposal for the wall back in 1996, but he had to wait a year to submit it at the right time.
The youth board, part of the city's youth opportunities
program, approved the grant in the fall of 1997 and the City
Council approved funding soon after. But it's taken nearly two
years to construct. The first challenge was finding a suitable
location, said Alice Swett, youth opportunities coordinator,
which meant finding a place that was safe for the artists and
agreeable to neighbors. After the park was chosen, the youth
program had to get approval from the Parks and Recreation
Advisory Board. The site chosen is also in a
Now, the wall is a blank slate — so to speak.
Only three rules apply to the wall, Swett said: no profanity or nudity can be depicted, artists must respect their surroundings and the rights of other users, and all users must keep the area clean.
"It's a continuous use wall," Swett said. "There is a code of respect. If something is good it stays up for a while and if something is bad, they paint right over it. The artists monitor themselves."
Boulder doesn't have much of a graffiti problem, said Dick
Reznik, one of the city's community service police officers,
though sporadic tagging — the practice of marking territory
with spray painted initials — does occur.
If you are aware of any additional Free Wall programs (Pro or Con) that we
have failed to mention here