What Happens to Public Art When A Percentage Of The Public Is A Selfish, Disrespectful, Flaming Douche Canoe
So the market mural got tagged last night. It’s been finished for what, a week? One of the artist’s friends recently overheard a group of teenagers saying they were pissed off that we painted over their tags that had been on the bridge for a couple of years. They said they were going to retag it as soon as we were finished. He didn’t get names or anything, so we had no way to prove it, and our budget doesn’t support a security detail or a camera system. Yet.
We did, however, plan the paint layering for this possibility, so there are two coats of clear topped with a third, sacrificial coat of some kind of industrial varnish. Tomorrow I’ll be out there in the pouring rain (under the cover of the bridge, but still…) gently rubbing the unsightly tag off with pure, toxic mineral spirits, all the while praying that the advice we were given by dozens of experts holds true, and the mural itself will not come off with it.
I’ll also file a police report, and have put the word out on Facebook and Twitter, so hopefully community members will keep an eye on the mural if they’re in that part of town at night.
There’s been an obnoxious comment thread on Facebook that’s basically an ongoing, multi-idiot game of I told you so. And it’s true. Hundreds of people felt the need to stop by my table at the market to tell me what a very bad idea painting a mural on the bridge is because it will only get destroyed. Hundreds of people who think public art isn’t worth the effort because vandals exist. Hundreds of people who walked away shaking their heads, calling me a fool, even while this beautiful transformation was happening right in front of them. They didn’t even stop to look.
I’m frankly more angry with these people than I am with the vandals. Tell me, oh sanctimonious, concerned citizens of our fair city, should we just hide our creativity and our love of art and beauty indoors away from damaging hands, and minds? I say, no. Should we stay so afraid that we let the belligerent, disrespectful souls in our midsts be the only ones allowed to paint the canvas of our city? I say no.
Do I wish they’d come down to help and be part of this amazing public art project? Yes. Yes, I do. I wish they’d understood the fact that we didn’t cover over their graffiti because we didn’t like it, but because the bridge is our home – it’s been our home for 20 years – and we wanted to give the market a permanent sense of place. We went through the proper channels to get permission to alter the face with art. It’s privately owned by the Ohio Department of Transportation, and those kids did not have permission to paint on it. We did. We spent $10,000 to transform the space from an overpass into a room filled with light, color, poetry, and spirit. I acknowledge that perhaps these kids have a similar pride of ownership over their tags. I invite them to paint the many other lintels and abutments with their own work. I do this at the same time I invite them to kiss my ass.
Hopefully this doesn’t turn into a pissing match, and cleaning graffiti off the bridge doesn’t become my second job.