The Final Countdown

April 23, 2012

So this is it.  The final countdown (yes, a Europe reference).

Our final drafts of our projects are due this Saturday at 11 p.m. on the dot.

Last week in class, we had peer revisions of our rough drafts.  It was really helpful, and I got great advice from both Tom and Laura.  I had a hunch that I needed to tweak my draft a bit, and they confirmed it.

It’s been fun learning about graffiti – the culture, the people, and the art – and I plan on reading more about it.  I’ve become a fan.

Now onto the final project….


This week, I will be conducting a telephone interview with Graffiti Tours Philadelphia.  This company gives graffiti tours throughout Philadelphia and New York.  They also offer graffiti consulting and designs for businesses.  Some topics that I would like to touch on during the interview include:

– the origin of this business
– why the owner felt it was needed in the city
– the popularity of the tours
– why the locations are chosen

Here is a link to their website:

I will also be finishing my Harper’s Annotation and beginning to work on my final piece.  Now for more research…

This week, I am working on my Harper’s Annotation for my object – a wall.  I will be exploring the social, political, and economical aspects that are within the picture I have chosen.  I have printed out more journal articles from EBSCOhost, and I will be reading them throughout the week.  Also, I am waiting to hear back from a few prospects for my second in-person interview.  Sometime in the next week or so, maybe after Easter, I would like to take another trip to Philadelphia to search for graffiti.

“It is not in the thoughts we keep to ourselves but only in sharing them that ideas attain their potential.” – Carlo McCormick, Trespass

This week, our class met online to discuss our objects for the Harper’s Annotation project.  It was interesting to see everyone’s objects/pictures and to get feedback about our selected items and suggestions on topics that we could explore.  As stated in a previous blog, I have chosen a wall as my object of annotation.  The picture that I have chosen depicts a wall that has graffiti painted on it.  The graffiti is a larger throw-up piece with a smurf painted on it.  The class suggested that I juxtapose(oh no, not that word!) the paradise of smurf land to the area of North Philadelphia where this picture was taken.  They also suggested to research the church that is in the back of the picture.  Maybe it was because I did not fully grasp the concept of this assignment, but before this discussion, I would have never thought to explore these two areas in my picture.

Email Interview – Amy Johnston

My goal for this interview was to gain a better understanding of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (PMAP).  Most of the literature that I have read about graffiti mentions Murals and/or Mural Programs, as well as the effects that they have on society and crime within cities.  Johnston’s responses have provided me with an in-depth look into the PMAP, and I believe that I have gained more of an understanding of the program in relation to its role in Philadelphia by conducting this interview.

This interview was similar to my expectations in that Johnston provided a great amount of information about the PMAP.  So far I have read articles and books about murals in general, but none that focus strictly on the PMAP.  I found that the idea of improving the sense of possibility for both the neighborhood and the residents as individuals was interesting.  I also found it interesting that the program has shifted from an anti-graffiti program to a pro-art program.  I wonder if this shift occurred because of a cultural shift of acceptance towards graffiti/street art, or because of its rise in popularity?  One aspect of the interview that surprised me was where Johnston mentioned the Broken Windows Theory – a theory that revolves around a claim that ignoring crimes such as vandalism and theft will lead to more crimes – and the opposing viewpoints of the PMAP – that positive environments will produce more positive environments.  I had not thought about the connection between murals and the Broken Windows Theory.

What was successful?
The interview was successful in that I learned a bit more about the history, decisions, and current status of Mural Arts Program as well as its ties to graffiti and the city of Philadelphia.  I enjoyed hearing about the inter-workings of the PMAP – how they choose locations, themes, and artists for their murals.  For the most part, this interview went as well as I had expected it to.

What might be done differently?

I am always a bit skeptical about email interviews.  You can not tell emotion through email – the person may be enthusiastic, bored, or so/so about the subject, all of which add depth and allow the interviewer to learn about the interviewee as well as the subject.  These emotions are not conveyed through an email.  I do believe that email interviews are great if the interviewee can not meet in person due to location, schedule, or other reasons, but I feel that they often limit the potential flow of information.  This is because the interviewee is focused on answering a set of questions instead of a broad topic.  Often, these questions do not give them a chance to elaborate on the subject.  There is a time factor related to email interviews as well.  Of course, the initial email interview has an agreed time and place, but you (or I) may have to wait a few days to obtain answers for follow up questions.  This problem could be solved instantly through an in-person or Skype interview.

What questions do you still have?

I have asked graffiti artists about their views on murals, and have received mixed reactions, but I would like to know what they think about the PMAP’s status as a pro-art supporter.  Do the graffiti artists still view mural programs as anti-graffiti? Or are they embracing them?

Where you hope to go next?

In the next few weeks, I will finish my annotated bibliography, continue to read about graffiti, and research for my Harper’s Annotation assignment.  After that, I will be working on my final piece for this project.

Here are the answers to the questions that I had asked.

1.  When did the Mural Arts Program start?

The Mural Arts Program began in 1984 as the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network.

2.  Why and/or how did the Mural Arts Program start?

The Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network was the brainchild of the Mayor at that time, Wilson Goode, who saw graffiti as a social problem and was seeking a creative remedy to address it.

3.  What does the Mural Arts Program do?

The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program unites artists and communities through a collaborative process, rooted in the traditions of mural-making, to create art that transforms public spaces and individual lives.

4.  How do you choose locations for murals?

Locations are chosen in several ways:  1) Community members may apply for a mural with a location in mind, 2) Property owners may apply to donate their wall as a canvas for our work, and 3) Mural Arts may drive around the city looking for a wall for a project — a process we describe as a “wall hunt.”

5.  How do you find the artists to paint the murals? Are they former graffiti/street artists?

We work with approximately 250 artists and teachers each year.  Artists can apply to work with us through our online application process.  Students in our free art education classes also have the opportunity to contribute to murals.  Students can apply to participate in our program based on their interest in art, or can be assigned to serve community service hours with us.

6.  Does the Mural Arts Program view graffiti as art or vandalism?

When asked about the difference between murals and graffiti I always give the simplest answer (our work is permission based) because I think it is the best, most accurate answer.  In addition, when the transition from being a small component of the Anti-Graffiti network to becoming the Mural Arts Program (so an entity in our own right) took place in 1996, the culture of our organization shifted from anti-graffiti to pro-art. That is how we think of ourselves today.

7.  How many murals have been painted since the program has started?

Over 3,500.

8.  What are the themes used to create the murals?

Themes are developed out of conversations with the community where the mural will be located.  Popular themes include gardens and other landscapes (thus adding greenery to the streetscape); portrait murals honoring community leaders or historic figures who are / were sources of inspiration; immigration stories or images of one’s home country; to name a few.

9.  Has the community seen a turnaround with graffiti/street art? i.e. less vandalism and more art pieces?

I am going to answer this question in three parts:  1) We believe that public art can have a catalytic effect on individuals and neighborhoods. We often describe our work as the opposite of the broken windows theory; in other words…positive investments lead to more positive investments.  2) It has been written about our program that the extent to which we invite the community in to the process sets us apart from other similar organizations.  We believe that the depth of our process is part of what creates the respect for the work which, in turn helps to give the work longevity.  3) In addition, a recent study cited murals as one of the top five investments cities can make to help improve the health and vitality of commercial corridors.

10.  What does the program believe its biggest impact has been within the city of Philadelphia?  (i.e. who has the program effected the most?

In my opinion, our biggest impact has been on the lives of individuals and communities; specifically the way in which our collaborations have changed individuals’ and neighborhoods’ sense of possibility about themselves, and the positive, catalytic effect that our work continues to have long after it is completed.

My object for the Harper’s Annotation will be a wall.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I walked into the coffee shop at 4:35 and took a gander through it.  It was fairly busy for a Wednesday afternoon.  Each table was occupied – some by people reading the paper, some by students typing away on their laptops.  I didn’t see anyone sitting alone, so I walked to the front door of the coffee shop and called R.  He told me that he was inside the shop.  I had walked right by him.  He said that he was in the side room, so I made my way there.

As I walked into the side room, I noticed that one man began to stand up.  He shook hands with another man sitting at the table, and left.  The man at the table looked up and asked happily, “Are you Jason?”  I said yes, shook his hand, and sat down at the table.

As I sat down, I thanked him for the interview.  He seemed more than pleased to talk to me.  I then explained my project to him, and he began to tell me his story.

When R was 10 years old, he began drawing charcoal pieces(drawings, not graffiti) in a sketch book.  After about two years, he decided that he wanted to create something more colorful – so he turned to graffiti.  He mentioned that he was influenced by the kinetic movement, anonymity, and mischievousness of graffiti art, as well as the hip hop culture.

R taught himself the graffiti styles by looking at graffiti pictures online and mimicking them.  He began by writing quick tags, but then evolved into writing bigger throw-up pieces.  While in high school, R would save up his lunch money to purchase cans of Krylon – the finest paint known to graffiti artists.  During the evenings, he would tag abandoned buildings, overpasses, and bridges in town.  At times, he would take the train to Kensington with a friend and tag the city.  He mentioned that the graffiti he saw while on the train to Kensington was a big influence on his graffiti style as well.

I had known that the location of a piece is just as important as the piece itself, so I asked R about the most difficult location that he had ever tagged.  He told me about a time when he and his friends tagged the side of an old post office – in broad daylight.  The post office was on a busy street in town, and they had one friend on the roof as a lookout.  R explained that he was, “Just a white suburban kid.  I don’t want it to be a claim on something (territory), I want it to be art.”

At the age of 14, R was caught tagging by the transit police.  He was arrested and charged with Trespassing, Interference of Transportation, Vandalism, and Criminal Mischief.  The police also took his sketchbook that was filled with tag designs.  That night, R waited almost two hours in jail and was about to be shipped off to Juvenile Hall.  His parents picked him up, but they were not happy with him.

The court date for the tagging incident took place on the same day as his parent’s 25th wedding anniversary.  Instead of charging R with these crimes, the police asked him to paint a mural at a local school instead.  “They respected us as artists, so they wanted to cut us a deal,” he said.  At the time, R felt he was too cool to paint murals in a school and refused the offer.  The police then offered for him to paint the walls of a local church.  He agreed to this deal.  R’s parents then gave him free reign to paint the walls of the basement – as long as he didn’t write graffiti outside anymore.

R remained active by painting in his basement as well as painting in other peoples basements up until about two years ago.  R, now 26,  went back to a less illegal type of work – drawing with charcoal.


This interview was similar to my expectations in that R created the graffiti to publicize his art.  During the interview, he likened it to free advertising for his work, as well as an easy way to get his artwork from his sketchbook into the public eye.  It seems that this is a common reason to begin making graffiti art.

The interview was different from my expectations for many reasons.  R. was not from the city, and emphasized that he did not create graffiti out of social need.  He wasn’t writing within any city graffiti crews – just a few friends from the suburbs.

In speaking with R, I have learned just how vast and expansive the graffiti culture is.  There are graffiti artists in every part of the world – not just big cities.  It is amazing how far graffiti artists will go to create pieces, and R is a perfect example.  At the moment, I can’t think of any other hobbies/interests that a person would risk getting arrested over.

– What was successful?

The best part of this interview was the fact that I did not prepare questions.  I only had rough ideas of topics to touch on.  Much like my interview with graffiti artist J, this approach allowed R to speak freely and tell stories about his experience within the graffiti world that I may not have thought to ask about.  It also brought along questions that I did not think of asking.  I really think that this style is best for obtaining an understanding of the person as well as the culture he or she is within.

– What might have been done differently?

For this interview I could have prepared questions, but I had a great amount of success with interviewing artist J, that I thought the conversational style would be best for the in-person interview.  I think this interview was a great view into the graffiti world from a suburban artist.  It proved to me that graffiti is not just a “city thing” – it is a global phenomenon that spreads daily.

– Where to go next?

Soon, I will be posting my post-interview blog about my online interview with Amy Johnston from the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.  I am also working on my Annotated Bibliography and brainstorming ideas for my Harper’s Annotation assignment.

Exact transcription from fieldnotes (I have edited out personal information):

Page 1: started – music listening to hip-hop

– drew w/ charcoal

– kinetic & movement

– mischevious – 13-14 y/o

– anonymity was cool

– “White suburban kid – no territory, no gang”

– save lunch $, buy cans of crylon

– train track bridge

– got arrested at 14

– only 2 ppl doing it in school

– first big piece on bridge

Page 2: – “Just putting art out there”

– free gallery

– caught red handed – red paint

– transit police – tresspassing, interference of trans, vandalism, crim mischief

– cut a deal w/police

– mural in high school – didn’t want to do

– painted church – walls of church

– “They respected us as artists”

– used sketchbook – gave it back

– about to ship to juvenile hall

– waited 2 hours in jail

Page 3: – court on parents 25th wedding anniversary – parents not thrilled

– parents gave free reign in basement to paint whatever

– stuck to bold outlines, tag mainly

– basement – acrylics (no fumes)

– never saw others doing it – paint over pieces

– any blank space between would be filled by whoever got to it

– abandoned bank, overpasses

– friend moving from kensington

– would paint in kensington railyards

Page 4: – always afraid to paint tags – knew more serious reasons for them to do it

– hesitant but still went for it

– 10 yrs since

– had friends ask to do graff in basements

– friend from kensington brought influence to

– never bought more than 3 cans at a time

– low light evening for sunlight – once used a flashlight to get down and out

– self taught – online diff pics online to use styles

Page 5: – on ride to kensington saw a lot of graff to influence

– other graffs copy font fro mtags

– active for 12 y/o – 16 y/o

– up until about a few years ago in basements

– stopped for school – got more into charcoal, got airbrush, couldn’t get feel for, can felt better

– 2 years charcoal, then graffiti, colorful

– mural programs – good, especially for kids, paint by #’s

Page 6: – illegal stuff can really beautify the area

– starts w/quick tag them evolves into bigger

– “dont want it to be a claim on something(territory) I want it to be art.”

– hardest location – side of old abandoned post office in broad daylight, kid on roof as lookout, on busy street


March 23, 2012

While driving home from my internship yesterday, I passed a train carrying four gray train cars. I noticed that each car was riddled with graffiti – some small tags, some large. The train cars reminded me of Cornbread’s elephants. Giant gray spray painted masses following each other in a single file line, both unconscious of the messages they’re carrying.

Tomorrow I will be interviewing Amy Johnston from the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program via email.  Amy works as the Information and Events Specialist in the program.  I was able to get in contact with her through the Mural Arts Program website.  I asked her for an email interview, because I feel that this method is the best way to conduct the interview due to our schedules.

In my research, I have found that it is impossible to write about graffiti without touching on city murals and the role they serve in the community.  I have also read that many Mural programs have been created to deter graffiti.  I know that the PMAP started as an anti-graffiti program, but I would like to learn more about its current relation to graffiti and the city of Philadelphia.  Amy is the Information and Events Specialist, so I thought she would be the best person to contact for information about the program, itself.

This will be different from my previous interviews because I will be asking specific questions, rather than having a conversation.  I have not yet tried this method in researching graffiti, and I hope that it does not inhibit the flow of information.  The questions that I would like to ask include:

1.  When did the Mural Arts Program start?

2.  Why and/or how did the Mural Arts Program start?

3.  What does the Mural Arts Program do?

4.  How do you choose locations for murals?

5.  How do you find the artists to paint the murals? Are they former graffiti/street artists?

6.  Does the Mural Arts Program view graffiti as art or vandalism?

7.  How many murals have been painted since the program has started?

8.  What are the themes used to create the murals?

9.  Has the community seen a turnaround with graffiti/street art? i.e. less vandalism and more art pieces?

10.  What does the program believe its biggest impact has been within the city of Philadelphia?  (i.e. who has the program effected the most?)

Week 10 Class Discussion

March 21, 2012

This week, we talked about the progress of each others projects.  It was refreshing to see that we are all on the same level of progression.  I will admit, at times, I wonder if my research is going in the right direction – but maybe that’s part of the research.  Last night served as a reminder that I am where I need to be at this point.  And now, on to more research.