To some people, it’s public art; to others, it’s a nuisance. Some city officials say that both aerosol art and illegal graffiti are problematic. Aerosol art is legal spray painting done in public spaces or on canvases, while graffiti is illegal marking on public or private property.
For another perspective on graffiti, see: Minneapolis doles out $164,500 for graffiti prevention and clean-up by Molly Priesmeyer, Minnesota Monitor
Melisa Rivière teaches anthropology of hip-hop at the University, and is the aerosol art curator of B-Girl Be, a program that works with women and girls in the hip-hop community.
She said aerosol artwork represents communities, but the use of aerosol is considered rebellious.
“Youth can find a way to make the city their clean slate,” Rivière said.
Tags are the most common form of aerosol graffiti, but there are also more complex pieces out there. Tags are essentially someone’s pseudonym, but Rivière said they also help young people form identities.
Minneapolis has an influential aerosol art scene because remnants of the Industrial Revolution, such as mills and rail lines, provide a canvas, she said.
Juxtaposition Arts is a nonprofit organization that coordinates art projects for youth and works with young people to create sanctioned aerosol art in public places.
Roger Cummings, artistic director at Juxtaposition, said the organization allows young people to create more than just arts and crafts.
Local businesses hire the organization, located on the edge of the Jordan neighborhood in north Minneapolis, to decorate buildings that are frequently tagged with illegal graffiti.
“It bridges this gap with kids in the community, business owners and, like, law enforcement,” Cummings said.
Cummings, who grew up in Minneapolis, said he began tagging as a teenager, and soon learned it felt empowering to leave a mark on his community. Juxtaposition doesn’t do anything illegal, and actually helps keep young people out of trouble, he said.
A downtown mural created by Juxtaposition artists was recently named “best public art” by City Pages.
However, some city officials don’t think aerosol art helps with graffiti problems.
Clean City Coordinator Angela Brenny said free walls and other aerosol art actually encourage more illegal graffiti.
Taggers see it and are inspired, but they don’t want to cover up what’s already there. As a result, they end up marking other property in the surrounding area, she said.
“There’s a fine line between aerosol art and graffiti,” Brenny said. “It’s not art when it’s done illegally.”
Graffiti has a negative effect on communities because it lowers a neighborhood’s appeal, reduces property values and attracts criminal activity, according to the city of Minneapolis.
However, Brenny said gang activity and illegal tagging don’t always correlate.
In 2007, Whittier and Powderhorn Park neighborhoods in south Minneapolis saw the most graffiti, with a combined 1,631 cases. Marcy-Holmes reported 554 cases, while Como had 282.
The University had 114 cases of graffiti last year, according to a report from the Minneapolis Solid Waste and Recycling division.
Brenny said Solid Waste and Recycling alone spends about $1.2 million a year on graffiti prevention, removal and enforcement. This year, that division is distributing $150,000 in graffiti prevention grants.
John Paetzel works for Clean City Programs, which is part of Solid Waste and Recycling. He said he often removes graffiti near the University, only to find more of it in the same area within weeks.
“It’s discouraging,” Paetzel said.