The City of Charleston’s effort to stomp out graffiti has some crying foul at the broad brush the city is taking to subversive artistic expression, but business and community leaders are welcoming the support.
Saying that graffiti is bad for business, tourism, and property values, Mayor Joe Riley has unveiled a new campaign against graffiti, called Wipe Out Graffiti, including a 24-hour graffiti hotline (manned by Keep Charleston Beautiful volunteers) with city staff and police ready to hit the streets in their graffiti-mobile, power washers and cleaning solution in hand, to wipe out the graffiti within 48 hours, in most cases. The city has also instituted stiffer penalties for graffiti, hiking the fines from $451 to $1,087; and they’re offering a cash reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of graffiti vandals.
Like many downtown shops, Waterworks on King Street has more than a few scars from graffiti vandals. The remnants of a particularly large tag adorn the side of the building. The property managers, Prime South, have had to replace the back door because of graffiti that ruined the glass, says Waterworks manager Joanne Munyon.
“It’s rampant in this area,” she says.
There are plans to improve the lighting on Radcliffe Street to address the problem, Munyon says.
Myra Chamble, Childcare and Cultural Arts director for the YMCA on Cannon Street, says that graffiti isn’t a bad thing — in the right place. After a plan to let kids throw paint balloons at the back wall of the Y didn’t turn out as envisioned, Chamble got an offer from local graffiti artists to put a mural on the wall.
But the end result was a modest-sized YMCA graffiti-style logo overshadowed by huge symbols that might mean something to the artists, but were unrecognizable to Chamble. There were some efforts to fix the wall, she says, but miscommunication among the artists only made matters worse. A few weeks ago, police officers visiting the Y offered to clean up the wall, scrapping everything but the YMCA logo.
Chamble has since spoken with the artists, who have offered to take another crack at her more kid-friendly vision for the mural. Having grown up in New York, Chamble knows the positive power of graffiti
“Graffiti can be beautiful,” she says. “But when it’s in the wrong place, the community doesn’t find it beautiful.”
It’s the graffiti in those wrong places that really ticks off Riley.
“Graffiti is not an issue of creativity, but a definite form of vandalism,” he said in announcing the graffiti campaign last week. “The city of Charleston intends to address this issue in a multi-pronged program which will reduce the amount of graffiti and send a message that it will not be tolerated.”
Artists have already responded with a poster depicting Riley as a dictator.
Considering the very nature of subversive art is in expressing oneself in the face of what’s seen as government suppression, Riley and the city may see more from graffiti artists, not less.