Across the Pond, Plans to Protect and Salvage Street Art

07/20/2011 9:46 AM |

Banksys Gorilla in a Pink Mask in Bristol, before and after. (Photos: SWNS.COM)

  • Banksy’s “Gorilla in a Pink Mask” in Bristol, before and after. (Photos: SWNS.COM)

How wide is the Atlantic divide? While our own nation comes to grips with a “sudden surge” in street art by debating new ways to scrub, scrape and combat that devil graffiti, lawmakers in Bristol, UK have proposed a plan to protect what would be deemed “valuable” works of art put up in public.

Following the mild uproar over the “accidental” whitewashing of Banksy’s gorilla in a pink mask, a work that had been up for over 10 years, Steve Comer, Councillor in the Southwestern English town, has suggested creating a citywide register and requiring permission to alter such pieces (similar to a plan proposed back in 2009). “Public art has become an important part of our lives in Bristol,” he said, “and, where possible, should be protected.” Likely, the corner store throw-up won’t be getting registered. Not so, however, for stencils made by household names selling pieces at record-setting prices at auction.

The idea of having a politician appraise and curate the tagged walls of a city might raise some eyebrows, but the sentiment demonstrates an effort to add legitimacy to the art form. Back here on the left bank, the very concept of “valuable” graffiti and the idea of protecting it, seem far removed from the mainstream discourse.

Over the course of his three-term tenure, Mayor Bloomberg has devoted enormous amounts of resources to combat graffiti, going so far as to criminalize the possession of spray-paint, even magic markers by anyone under the age of 21 (i.e. art students). Dubbed a “quality of life” issue by his Graffiti Free NYC program, street art is routinely covered up by the anti-graffiti unit regardless of “value” and free of charge to property owners.

City Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr., Bloomberg’s cohort in the war on tagging responsible for the magic marker fiasco, is also believed to have been the hand that blocked MOCA’s Art in the Streets exhibit from coming to the Brooklyn Museum by threatening to cut the institution’s funding by $9 million.

Fan-run petitions and fundraisers have struggled to bring attention to the redevelopment of artist-run Queens graffiti Mecca 5Pointz since it was announced in March, but city officials have yet to make any effort to prevent the impending destruction of a venerable urban landmark.

As the Times reports today, street art is spreading rapidly across the nation to places where, for the longest time, bare walls were always the norm. More than ever, officials are having difficulty making the distinction between a public menace and a part of daily life.

“We clean it up every week,” Bobby Velasco, graffiti supervisor in the county that includes Albuquerque, NM, tells the Times. “And every week they always come back.”

Repeating the same action over and over again, expecting different results? Sounds like this wise guy‘s definition of insanity.