"The boxes were mainly ignored and often a bit scruffy, we agreed this would be a great way to liven them up and give people something cool to look at and add to Brighton," (Cassette Lord).
|Painted junction boxes, Brighton - Photos by Billy Haworth|
These initiatives are centred on the same core goal: to reduce graffiti 'vandalism'. And that is where my problem with this approach lies. When exactly is graffiti 'vandalism' and when is it 'art'? Who decides this? These initiatives are based on the assumption that all graffiti that might occur on these traffic signal boxes or elsewhere is 'vandalism' not worthy to remain on the traffic boxes, and the community pieces are 'beautiful' because they are 'art'. The issue I have is that everyone has differing views on graffiti; what they like, what they don't like, what is appropriate, what is not, what is graffiti, what is art, and so on. These initiatives ignore that graffiti is a diverse subculture. I fail to see how taking even more space away from someone wanting space to write will be an effective approach. Perhaps rather than creating spaces where people cannot write, authorities should focus more on providing spaces where they can write, thus discouraging writing in unwanted spaces.
One comfort I take from the Brighton example is that at least the program was started by a street artist already writing on the streets aiming to add to the existing urban aesthetic, and not by a councillor in an office who is unlikely to have much experience of graffiti culture beyond the view of it as crime in their community. I don't mean to say community art projects are not welcome. Of course they are great for many different reasons, and many of the works I've seen on traffic boxes, particularly those by Cassette Lord, are really awesome! And I would certainly say that I prefer an approach to graffiti management that aims to exhibit local art as opposed to those many cities adopt that simply remove all graffiti as vandalism. I do question, however, the long-term success of a strategy to reduce graffiti that fails to understand the fundamentals of what graffiti culture is, and the diversity that comes with it. I suppose only time will tell.