Every once in a while, SF city officials get all motivated to crack down on graffiti. They hold meetings and press conferences and use phrases like “respect for the city” and “frivolous gang activity”. Typically, some big project is announced to deter graffiti artists, walls are all painted white, and everyone gets their hopes up for a clean, beautified city. Then two weeks go by and all the fresh white is once again covered in spray paint. And the city officials give up.
People have argued about graffiti for ages. Is it vandalism? Is it art? And the argument isn’t limited to San Francisco. Cities all over the world have to deal with this problem and each one has it’s own approach. My husband spent a summer in Barcelona, and he says that the graffiti over there is considered art; a kind of cultural expression. Much of the street art is political or social commentary and it’s kind of a ritual that mixes in with the character of the city. But in Rome, he says every wall in Rome has graffiti on it and it makes the city look trashy.
Three years ago, when SF was really geared up to wash out the graffiti, The Mural Project was created to be the hero for our beautiful city. The Mural Project hired local artists to paint murals on large, easily accessible, walls, in hopes that vandals would leave the wall alone. There are now 23 murals in the city of San Francisco, the most murals of any city in the United States. There’s one on Laguna St near hwy-101, and there’s another behind this shady gas station at Market and Duboce.
Another time, the city hired a bunch of workers to be part of a painting team. You can see these guys walking down the street with their cart of brushes and rollers, stopping every couple of yards to paint over something written in spray paint. This is a great idea, because it creates jobs, but at the same time, it’s kinda of an effort in futility. Just as soon as something is painted over, it’s almost immediately re-tagged with graffiti.
I drove around today taking pictures of the murals and the graffiti, trying to decide how I feel about it. I guess I think some of the street art is beautiful, and some of it is meaningless and should be painted over. But you can’t create a law that says “pretty vandalism is allowed but the ugly stuff is prohibited”. You have to accept all of it or none of it. So, if I have to choose between all the graffiti or none, I choose to let it stay. It’s a form of art and expression, under appreciated as it may be. And it adds to the character of this city.
Several websites are devoted to honoring the work of street artists. You can find more info and lots of pictures here: