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Drive down La Brea Avenue and you might be surprised by the increased amount of graffiti you’ll find on buildings.
The alleyways have long been fodder for taggers, but now storefronts and bank buildings are targets. The Bank of America building at La Brea and Rosewood Avenues was tagged months ago, and there are no plans for removal.
“If we clean it, they’ll do it again,” said bank manager Gnel Khachatryan. “At least it doesn’t say anything [offensive]. I live in Glendale and there’s more graffiti here. It’s not nice, but it doesn’t bother.”
According to the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance, the Business Improvement District (BID) spends roughly $212,000 annually for graffiti removal. Since January 1, the BID has removed approximately 900 tags – 244 of which were gang-related.
Lt. Russ Wong, of the LAPD Wilshire Division’s Gang Impact Team, pointed out that there is a difference between graffiti and tagging.
“Gang members use graffiti to make a statement to other people, although their roll calls aren’t as popular as they used to be,” Wong said. “Tagging is a genre all of its own. Some people do it for attention, ‘look where I put my name.’”
Wong admits that graffiti is on the rise in the Melrose district. Both tagging and graffiti are considered vandalism and can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the cost of property damage.
According to the Department of Public Works’ Office of Community Beautification, between July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010 there was 1,083,586 square feet of graffiti removed from 33,742 locations in the 4th Council District, and 554,381 square feet removed from 10,170 locations in the 5th Council District.
“Graffiti is on the rise pretty much in all parts of the city,” said Paul Rac, director of the Office of Community Beautification. “In West Los Angeles and areas where there hasn’t been a problem in the past, it really has taken off.”
Last year the City of Los Angeles removed 32.7 million square feet of graffiti. While the Office of Community Beautification’s annual budget is $7.1 million, three years ago, because of budget constraints, it suspended its Educational Outreach Program, which is designed to help the community understand the problems and consequences of graffiti and deter youth from graffiti vandalism.
Currently, The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA is displaying its “Art in the Streets” graffiti and street art exhibit, which traces the history of graffiti. However, not everybody considers graffiti as art.
“There’s an element of graffiti, which at its lowest level, is tagging, which is destructive,” said Nick Douglas, of the privately underwritten MOCA-latte, an organization that seeks to ignite discussions about art in Los Angeles. “And there are levels above that, including the most beautiful murals, and some commissioned art. Street art and graffiti art lives in the public domain, more so than other arts that have been established in the museum platform.”
MOCA-latte’s “Red Sticker Campaign”, currently underway, asks Angelenos to “approve” or “disapprove” of graffiti as art by affixing a sticker on the drawing.
Results of their selections are posted on the website, www.MOCA-latte.org.
“The project is not intended to deface or destroy street art, but to celebrate and engage in it,” Douglas said. “The stickers are easily removable and won’t damage the art or public property.”
With tagging on the rise along Melrose and La Brea Avenues, some people are concerned about the perception it creates.
“It’s a constant battle that we [fight],” said Jeff Jacobberger, chair of the Mid City West Community Council. “It creates a perception that this is a neighborhood that’s not well maintained. Not all tagging has to do with gangs, but it sends the message that it is.”
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