Last week ten Brooklyn teens who’d been arrested for graffiti (several more than once) made their gallery debut at Fort Greene’s Shop Talk and Art Gallery (35 Lafayette Avenue) after completing the city Probation Department’s Paint Straight program. The Daily News reports that this marks the program’s first exhibition with the BAM-adjacent gallery, offering the young artists a legal and encouraging way to have their work seen; “These are kids who just want to be recognized,” said Ralph Perez (aka Tatu Xmen), who runs the program. “If you give them a space where they can do it legally, why would you go out in the streets?”
Claudia Hinkson, a probation office, told the News that of the 33 young artists who’ve gone through with the Paint Straight program—some of whom were only 12 years old at the time of their first arrest—only one has ever been arrested again. The program’s success and ability to make teens channel their drawing and painting into more legal venues seems a pretty strong rebuke to critics who, in the very same paper, suggested that a now-canceled exhibition of graffiti and street art at the Brooklyn Museum would encourage vandalism.
With access to galleries and institutions, the need to assert oneself in the streets becomes less pronounced. Bushwick resident Jimmy Lugo, 14 (arrested the first of several times at age 12), said as much: “”This program made me realize there’s other ways to do graffiti… It feels better than writing on walls… I never thought I would be in an art gallery.”
Joe Cesar, the owner of Shop Talk and Art Gallery had nothing but praise for the ten young artists making their gallery debuts. “I’m surprised at how young they are,” he said. “I see a little bit of influence of [Jean-Michel] Basquiat in some of their work.” Slightly ominous praise, but nevertheless.