Thursday, March 28, 2013

graffiti that's "in character" with the community

Woodside Skate Spot, March 2013

I've been a big supporter of having more places to skate in Silver Spring and thus was glad to see a skate spot built in the park in 2010. But when I stopped by to see how it was doing last week, I was bummed to see it covered in graffiti.

I should specify that it was crappy graffiti. While some regard all graffiti as vandalism, I personally think it can be a powerful means of expression and a form of bottom-up public art. One of my favorite sights in Silver Spring is the huge and persistent "SMASH INHIBITIONS" tag next to the Red Line tracks between Burlington and Georgia avenues.

As skateboarding has become more mainstream, so has graffiti, so it's not surprising that they'd go together. I was excited to read that Howard County chose to preserve the graffiti at the Centennial skate park in Ellicott City as a form of "urban art," though within a few weeks it was removed after County Executive Ken Ulman declared it "out of character for the neighborhood."

I don't buy that argument. While there are some regional skateboarding destinations like Freedom Plaza in downtown D.C., most of the skaters at Centennial probably lived nearby, thus the graffiti would actually be a reflection of the neighborhood's character.

That brings me to the Woodside Park skate spot. The greater Silver Spring area has something resembling an arts community: folk singers, punk houses, sculptors who make giant tricycles and even an arts high school. We even have a skate park in Kensington built by skaters themselves.

Yet the best someone could do is a tag saying "SK8 4EVER," a recreation of the DC Shoes logo and a boner (on the ground)? This graffiti is out of character for the neighborhood, but I'd be open to something that took more than 20 minutes and half a can of green spray paint. This stuff will get scrubbed away and deserves to be, but a more meaningful image might spark some discussion and even calls for preservation.

Young people and skaters deserve a place in our public realm, provided they take care of it. To me, that means one of two things: keeping it clean, well-kept and free of Sharpie scribbles, like at the Arlington skate park rain garden, or keeping it clean, well-kept and adding your own mark. Isn't that what graffiti is about? If you're going to leave your mark in the public realm, at least make it a good one.


PT said...

That's a big disappointment. Was your post inspired by the "Legend of Disco Dan" documentary that just showed at the AFI?

I'm a big fan of well done graffiti such as along the redline, but tags like this just show no creativity.

I like the mural next to Kefa Cafe and have often thought that the long alley behind the storefronts along Georgia and ends at Jackie's would be a great place for a long continuous section of murals.

What are the chances that skilled graffiti artists could be requested to put up quality art on the Skate park?

Terry in Silver Spring said...

A skilled graffiti artist puts his or her work where it can be seen, that's why you see so much on the walls and buildings along the train/Metro lines. Few people comparatively would see the work at a skateboarding park AND you'll probably have the skateboards rolling or scraping across the paint. You might have to pay someone to put in the quality graffiti you want.

Terry in Silver Spring said...

One additional thought. There was an article in the Post a couple years ago where the author tracked down some of the people responsible for the high quality graffiti along the Red Line. Turns out that they were art students are one or more of the local colleges. Not the average kid with a couple of cans of spray paint.