Graffiti is ubiquitous. You’ve seen it. Crude public bathroom scratchings, quickly sprayed tags on underpasses, scrawled political slogans suggesting revolt and revolution, artistic but quickly applied stencils and posters, and elaborate multi-colored murals.We’ve seen it in every city we’ve visited: covering the trains in Naples, Italy; on the outer walls of Rome; throughout the San Telmo area in Buenos Aires; and, perhaps most sadly, too often on beautifully-preserved historical architecture.
Long an underground industry, most graffiti art was traditionally painted under the cover of night, often involving illegally-obtained supplies and a healthy dose of trespassing. In recent years, graffiti art has entered the mainstream, embraced by the hip-hop community and even showcased in museums of modern art.
Perhaps the most famous (or infamous) street artist, Banksy, has had his work sold for millions of dollars. Of course, this new acceptance has done nothing to dissuade budding street artists from honing their craft on every available wall in their neighborhoods.
For years, cities around the world have waged war against graffiti and the individuals who deface public and private property. Perhaps most famously, New York City has since the 1980’s chased a graffiti-free goal on its subway cars, spending millions of dollars to eradicate any hint of spray paint.
More and more, however, cities around the world are trying a different approach — working with groups of street artists or graffiti gangs to attempt to ensure a level of quality of art and prevent vandalism. Rome, who’s history with scrawled messages on walls dates back to Pompeii, has begun to provide legal spaces for street art.
Similarly, Cuenca, Ecuador enacted an ordinance regarding street art in 2013. The city, working with approximately 60 street artists looking for an outlet for their craft, agreed to sanction the artist’s murals and even supply the paint to create them. The artists agreed to assist the City with covering unsanctioned street art also with paint supplied by the City.
A meandering walk through Cuenca will present you with an amazing array of street art (certainly not all of it legal, but most with redeeming qualities).
So what do you think? Is graffiti simply vandalism, or street art? Leave a comment!
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