Headlines: November 22nd, 2006



Legalising graffiti would reduce vandalism, according to the results of a new survey on the use of community art projects and murals as a means of controlling graffiti. The study was conducted by GraffitiHotline, which asked for responses from local council graffiti officers, councillors, community police officers and residents’ groups as well as public art project co-ordinators.

The majority of residents in the survey objected to looking at graffiti art and murals and thought the content was aggressive and as bad as illegal graffiti. Their concerns ranged from worries about the reaction by visitors to an area, to the impact on house prices. A majority of respondents said they were tired of graffiti and saw it only as a crime with no artistic merit, but community and police officers had some sympathy for the vandals and realised they could have great talent, which was being channelled into illegal practices. They felt this was happening because there were few places where the vandals’ work could be done legally and because the law does not currently differentiate between graffiti art of merit on an out-of-the-way wall and a prolific and damaging ‘tagger’.

Representatives of local authorities who took part wanted stiffer sentences and were concerned that the police were too soft when vandals were caught. Art project co-ordinators, meanwhile, commended formal graffiti art projects that re-educated and stimulated graffiti vandals.

“After 15 years combating graffiti I was firmly in the ‘all graffiti is bad’ camp at the outset of this survey,” said Tony Parkes, director, GraffitiHotline, adding, “To my surprise I now find myself in the ‘most graffiti is bad, but it could be good’ camp. The results of our survey beg the thought that if graffiti became legal in designated areas, illegal graffiti might dramatically reduce.”

GraffitiHotline estimates that 99 per cent of graffiti are scribbled tags with only one per cent showing any artistic merit. Areas hidden from public view, such as railway embankments, tend to have a larger proportion of artistic graffiti. “By allowing time to create a piece of work the quality increases dramatically,” Tony Parkes said. His organisation is suggesting two types of locations for legal graffiti, firstly public areas with regular access such as subways, in schemes such as those already tested by councils. Secondly, it says public areas without regular access, like retaining walls at one end of an open space with no through access, could be used.