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Graffiti and Street Art in San Francisco

On January 18, ARG/CS Principal David Wessel will speak at Zero Graffiti International, a three-day conference to address the causes, effects, and prevention of vandalism in communities. This year’s conference takes place in our very own San Francisco, where city agencies spend somewhere around twenty million dollars a year combating graffiti on buildings, buses, and public monuments.

Graffiti has implications for a range of policy areas–from education to public safety to social justice–and the conference will feature speakers from across the spectrum of organizations who have a stake in understanding what graffiti is, why it happens, and what to do about it.

“Zero” is the operative word–the dream of any city administrator (or conservator) who has been tasked with removing an obscene drawing from yet another piece of public art at enormous expense. The technical side of the abatement will be addressed, bringing to bear ARG/CS’s many of years of experience removing graffiti from historic structures and public art (James Garfield, Miguel Hidalgo y Costillo, and the Ritz-Carlton, among many others).

David will speak as the president of the Board of Directors of San Francisco Architectural Heritage, a historic preservation organization that keeps murals and community art in its preservation purview.

Many communities have found that redirecting the frustrations and energies of vandals toward sanctioned murals and collaborative street art has been an effective way to prevent vandalism and beautify communities. Programs like this have blossomed around the country–the City of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program, the largest of its kind, has been a wild success.

One of the events at Zero Graffiti International is a mural tour hosted by StreetSmARTS, a collaborative program of the San Francisco Arts Commission and the Recreation and Parks Department that gets urban artists to work painting murals on private property.

One thing that may or may not come up at the conference is that some graffiti–let’s call it “unsanctioned street art”–can be quite beautiful. The ARG Conservation Services family has its own resident afficionado, Philip Rossetti, a Senior Designer at Architectural Resources Group who collects examples of exciting street art from around San Francisco and its environs. “Art is where you find it,” he says, and he was kind enough to share some of his favorite examples of what he’s found below. Photographed without context, it’s impossible to tell whether some of these pieces are authorized murals or very stylish acts of vandalism. Which brings me to a (very mild) piece of devil’s advocacy about (some) acts of vandalism: they sometimes become monuments themselves.

 

Street art images courtesy of Philip Rossetti