As I expressed in my previous essay titled A Wall, A Canvas, I am a huge fan of street art of all sorts, and I am an even bigger fan and supporter of the street art scene in Austin, Texas. But I am also a civil servant employed by the city held responsible for providing a safe, healthy, and happy environment for the city’s residents. As listed in my projects page, one ongoing project of mine is Make Art not Marks, a city wide effort to use murals as a means to battle graffiti on the a two front approach: by occupying the wall with another piece permitted to be there, and by beautifying the city through showcasing local artists. My role as a member of the Make Art Not Marks team is to research and develop programs that can fulfill those two goals.
Murals have been a tried and true proven method of curbing graffiti in highly trafficked parts of the city, especially when they are installed by locally respected artists. Interviews with city officials, nonprofits, artists collectives, and artists have supported this claim. Cities like Philadelphia have pioneered the city wide mural art program through the part city department / part nonprofit Philadelphia Mural Arts program. Philadelphia Mural Arts has been so influential that cities across the country have consulted with them to develop their own mural programs.
I have found through numerous interviews that in order to have an effective mural arts program with the goal of stopping graffiti you must employee local artists who have credibility within the scene. Philadelphia Mural Arts employees around 30% of its staff and art contracts with former graffiti artists. Building a healthy relationship with the local graffiti art scene is important for keeping the community happy. This is especially true in neighborhoods that are undergoing gentrification. Employing local artists who have been a part of the community for a long while to work in areas being gentrified shows that despite the economic changes of the neighborhood that the culture and memories of the past are still there.
Finally, murals just make the streets look better. They give the walls, streets, and neighborhoods a distinct personality. With no two murals ever the same passersby will always be able to know where they are and the stories of the neighborhood. It is my goal in Make Art Not Marks to contribute to this neighborhood beautification and identity programs.
When I tell people that I’m working on this project I always say that I am not anti-graffiti but pro-art. Ever since I moved to Austin I fell in love with the street art scene. The HOPE Outdoor Gallery, an enormous series of walls built on the side of a hill that anybody can spray on, is a personal favorite spot of mine in Austin. I make an effort to visit the gallery as much as possible to discover new artists and check in on the works of my favorite Austin artists. I firmly believe that having a City of Austin backed program that works directly with the Austin street art scene is necessary for a city that is full of so many talented artists. It is my mission to bring this program to life, and I have the research to back this mission up.
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