Monday, September 6, 2010

ArtStorm LA

When I would ride the subway around Manhattan as a little girl, visiting my Uncle Timmy, I would often try to count the number of different graffiti tags on buildings. As you can well imagine, the task was impossible; there are more tags seen passing by than is discernable and all that can be seen is a wall of paint and concrete blending together. Unfortunately, people often tag illegally, and 9 times out of 10 a tag is marked as a sign of blight.

…but have you ever seen an intentional mural-style graffiti-ed wall? Have you seen graffiti artists who are so incredibly talented that there is no way to label what they do as being remotely the same as illegal, unwanted tagging? ArtStormLA is an organization that I stumbled upon in LA that works to relabel graffiti as an acceptable art form called masterpiecing. In order to do that, the organization “…provides canvas, paint and safe and legal locations for young people to pursue their art…”

I met Steve Bagish in South Park this past week, a park in south central LA, which is a place still largely affected by the 90’s riots, to talk a bit about what he does and how his org got started. His invitation to come join him on a Thursday late at night was something to the effect of…if you want to be the only white girl for miles around in a rugged ghetto/barrio with a bunch of wild and screaming kids in a real life after-dark crime prevention program in the heart of homicide capital USA, come on down! I was surprised at such an obvious attempt to deter me from coming, but it occurred to me in speaking to him later that he had has his fair share of flaky “volunteers” who, upon agreeing to work with him, had bowed out because of this very reason. He used it as a mechanism for weeding out people who were not serious in their inquiries and involvement. Luckily, I am starting to know the things that I care about and that speaking with him and seeing the organization in action would be worth my time, so I showed up at 8:30pm on the SE corner of South Park.

I learned a lot about what ArtStorm does, but I think perhaps the best part about talking with Steve was when we were shooting ideas off each other. There was something that Steve mentioned that has gotten me to thinking about income generating models…

Picture a city grid, 1 street and 10 blocks long, with streets coming into the main drag on either side. At one end of the main street there is something called a permanent public art station with concrete blocks in the shape of easels that can support rather large canvases. Artists can set up shop for a day, paint away, and at the end of the day walk away with their canvas. At the other end of the ten blocks there is another station, on the opposite side of the street. Now, think of cars passing through…they see the first station and think: how cool! But they don’t stop. As they pass through to the other side of the 10 blocks they see the other station, and this time they decide to pull over and check it out. Maybe they offer the artist money for the artwork, maybe they don’t, but either way they are talking about the art, they are slowing down their cars, and they are spending a little more time in a neighborhood they might usually blow right through. Steve says he has successfully tried it at a temporary location, so I am wondering how and if something like this is possible on more permanent basis. For example, how can a station be legal? Is it like an adult playground in a sense? Regardless, I think permanent art stations are a pretty neat idea…

I love love love that ArtStorm works with guys who have gotten caught tagging to demonstrate how graffiti in certain contexts can be productive and even income generating if the artist becomes good enough (see my future post on Precita Eyes in SF). My only real concern for the organization becomes that it is largely a one man show…continue on that trajectory and you’ll end up wearing yourself down pretty fast, no?

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