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Mural art vs. graffiti crime
By Brenda Benner

January 29, 2008

For those of you who either stare impatiently at the red traffic lights or zoom through the intersection of N. Loop and N. Lamar, here’s a little something you may have missed on the edge of our neighborhood. Your best chance of noticing it is while driving southbound on N. Lamar.

Brightening the side wall of Eternally Bound Tattoo and overlooking the Alan’s Auto Inspections parking area is a large mural recently painted by a group of professional artists. Two of the artists, known as Revok and Saber are based in Los Angelos. Mike, of Eternally Bound Tattoo, said he has the rights to the wall as given by the terms of his lease.

“I was approached a few months ago regarding a mural and I thought it was a good idea,” Mike explained.

The huge wall mural is a commissioned art project backed by Boost Mobile. Artists painted for two days until darkness stopped their work. As of late January, the mural is not complete. Plans are in the works to revisit the wall when the weather warms and the artist’s schedules permit.

Mike said the participating artists are known worldwide by those who follow the urban art scene and that they have books and websites showing their work.

Professional Austin-based artist Nate Nordstrom, known as Sloke, said that if the LA artists can’t return soon, he will complete the mural.

Conversations with the mural artists and a few other local-area artists gathered around watching the action led to the same basic theme; that painting murals on walls and under bridges helps protect those areas from graffiti crime.

The Northfield neighborhood has seen its unfortunate share of graffiti, especially along N. Loop and Waller Creek. Although the terminology used for those who deface property is varied, the outcome is the same – an eyesore of destruction.

“I personally call them vandals, not taggers,” Mike said. Dominic, a New York-based painter, illustrator and tattoo artist said there’s usually a street respect for professional murals, but that nothing is 100% safe. “Murals help keep down the vandalism by ‘scratchers’ – that’s what I call them,” said Dominic. “They do nothing but vandalize by stomping on someone’s art.” Sloke, who teaches urban art classes here in Austin, said he hopes the city council will eventually explore the possibility of having more permission walls in the area. He believes public art walls provide a safe place for those who feel compelled to create. Sloke said so far there is only one legal wall. It’s located in South Austin at S. Congress and Mary St.

“Permission walls really do cut down on tagging and they can become an attraction for upcoming artists,” Sloke explained. “They are nicer to look at than a blank wall.” Artists at the mural site support the concept and mentioned that several public parks in Seattle have permission walls. During a recent Northfield Neighborhood Association meeting, Detective Kevin Bartles of the Austin Police Department’s graffiti unit emphasized that reporting graffiti crime to the APD is critical to gain momentum for the fight. “Failing to officially report graffiti problems results in false low-level graffiti statistics,” said Bartles. “This makes it more difficult for APD to increase manpower and other resources to investigate and arrest offenders.”

Detective Bartles suggested that anyone reporting graffiti should get a photo of the tag, even if it’s with a cell phone. Experts at APD can recognize many of the initials and symbols painted by taggers that appear as merely “jibberish” to the rest of us. This helps with tracking down the offenders. The city of Austin has paint crews who cover up graffiti, but they can’t cover it up unless they know about it. It’s a simple and logical cycle. We can be a part of what makes it work.

There are numerous websites that deal with graffiti. For starters, try visiting www.graffitihurts.org for a quick education on the topic.

Our neighborhood is undergoing many changes the past few years. Some are beyond our control, some are not. Let’s keep an eye out for graffiti and take the few extra minutes to photograph it and call it in. If the eyesores are painted over “quickly” and the offenders are caught, word will spread throughout the tagging community. Perhaps they will move to other locations, or better yet, decide it’s not worth the risk of going to jail.

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