Guest Commentary

Graffiti is a big problem for the city ... so why is the city teaching kids to do graffiti?

Graffiti is the bane of Tucson residents. It is generally ugly and costly, and can often be an indicator (like broken windows) of a crime-ridden neighborhood.

I'll take it a step further and claim that it is bad for the perpetrators. It is a tool for minors to develop antisocial, even solipsistic tendencies.

Few parts of Tucson are untouched by graffiti; certainly no part of midtown is. Individuals and neighborhood groups are engaged in an endless campaign to clean up after these proto-vandals. The city of Tucson assists residents in this effort by offering classes in graffiti abatement, and providing removal services. In fact, before the city of Tucson started experiencing budget constraints, it used to hire a contractor with two paint trucks to professionally color-match and paint over graffiti. A telephone call would dispatch a team to the scene of the crime.

Meanwhile, in another part of the municipal government, a how-to-do-graffiti class was both facilitated and subsidized. You may recall the mural spray-painted on the side of a Tucson Water building downtown. It was the product of a class taught by "graffiti artist" Rocky Martinez. Mr. Martinez teaches a graffiti-art program for the city of Tucson called Arts in Reality. According to the Arizona Daily Star, the program is funded in part by $8,000 from City Councilwoman Regina Romero's discretionary youth fund.

Here's a money-saving idea: The city of Tucson should decide whether it wants to discourage graffiti or promote it; then it could discontinue either the abatement efforts or the how-to classes.

Does that make sense, or am I missing something? The reaction of the public, particularly those who live in the vicinity of the "mural," might have provided some direction to the city, but no, it went directly into silk-purse-from-sow's-ear mode.

Everybody got together and talked with everybody else and decided to repaint the wall with more-pleasing imagery. Everybody spoke of the community coming together and about what a great learning experience it was for the kids. However, all of this wishful thinking pointedly avoided the problem: The kids were still being taught how to deface buildings. I know, they were told that it must not be done illegally, and a bunch of other cover-your-keester crap, but the promoters of that line are only fooling themselves. The new "mural" was slated to be unveiled in a ceremony on Aug. 25.

The situation is Kafkaesque. It reminds me of his short story "In the Penal Colony." The story tells of a traveler who visits a penal colony where he witnesses an execution. The method is brutal: The prisoner is put in a machine that carves the name of his offense in his back, repeatedly, until he dies. It is an all-day affair. The traveler sees this as barbaric, while the operator of the machine sees it as a good thing that brings the community together (there was a large gallery), and it really is art, you see, since the offense is written in beautiful swirling calligraphy. The prisoner himself figures out the message about 10 to 12 hours into it, and seems to achieve a certain peace, according to the operator.

If you guessed that the traveler is the people, the prisoner the kids and the operator Regina Romero, move to the head of the class. At this point, I must say that it is important to understand that the operator was not bad or evil; he just missed the larger point.

Everybody needs a hobby, especially kids, especially kids with too much time on their hands. There are lots of private groups and organizations that provide positive activities for children. I know of none that teach "graffiti art." What do they know that the city does not?