Widely regarded as a colorful form of vandalism and an indication of a lesser affluent, crime-inflicted part of town, graffiti is rarely, if ever, viewed as a positive addition to any community.
But as community members in cities such as Detroit struggle to piece back together a city wrecked by economic tragedy, graffiti has become an important art form that has turned the dark, crumbling buildings in the largely abandoned Motor City into a visual display of hope.
Dale Carlson is the content director of ilovedetroitmichigan.com, a photo website dedicated to highlighting all of the graffiti art throughout the city. Carlson told MintPress that while most of the graffiti in Detroit is vandalism that can turn “nearly worthless, vacant, abandoned real estate into completely worthless, vacant, abandoned real estate,” he says “it is that very same vacant, abandoned real estate (and there is a ton of it in Detroit) that has provided the canvas that has facilitated a movement.”
The “movement” Carlson is referring to is known as the “Detroit Beautification Project,” which was started by world-renowned artist Revok in 2012, who said he wanted to help the city become an “epicenter of creativity” once again.
The project involved more than 20 premier graffiti artists coming to the city to create a series of murals in neighborhoods the artists felt needed them most.
Graffiti artist Pose, who was part of the project, said that the movement was “born out of a very American experience,” adding that it was a “basic human gesture” to paint the city for those who remained.
Though the city was hit hard by the 2007 economic collapse, the truth is Detroit has been struggling financially for decades. During the last 30 years or so, it has seen about half of its population flee, leaving some 40 square miles — which is the equivalent to the size of San Francisco — vacant.
While some of the graffiti that decorates buildings throughout Detroit were commissioned as part of the Detroit Beautification Project and even by some local businesses, a lot of the art was also “illegally” painted — sometimes by artists who were brought in to paint those commissioned pieces.
“The amount of fully completed, legal, graffiti-style art pieces in Detroit right now is unheard of pretty much anywhere else in the United States,” Carlson said. “It’s downright revolutionary the level of tolerance, acceptance and approval the art form has achieved here over the past few years. That ought to be recognized throughout the art world, and I believe it eventually will be, but credit is always slow in coming where Detroit is concerned.
“Detroit’s street art movement just might be a catalyst for an improved national public image in the coming years, but I can tell for certain that most people in metro Detroit do not give two craps what the rest of the world thinks of us and take great pride in being regarded as a dump by millions of people that have never even been here,” Carlson said. “What’s far more positive than an improved national public image, in my opinion, is being able to drive down the street and see art everywhere.”
Chris Freitag, of Pieces of Detroit, who is also writing a book on the city’s graffiti movement, agreed the surge in graffiti has been positive for the city.
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