It’s important to distinguish the difference between street art and graffiti. Graffiti in the broad definition does include street art, and North Brooklyn has a reputation of excellent street art: some commissioned by businesses, some with permission of the building’s owner, and some placed by rogue artists. The graffiti that is targeted for removal in most cases lands in the vandalism category of graffiti: tags, slogans, profanity, and eye sores.
The Graffiti Free NYC program initiated by New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the Office of the Mayor was suspended in 2020 due to COVID-19 related budget cuts. Graffiti Free NYC resumed in April and kicked into high gear in addition to cleaning efforts made by NYC leaders.
According to Fox 5, the team behind Graffiti Free NYC are capable of cleaning 100 sites a week “at full-strength.” The fact that there are over 4,000 vandalized properties reported in NYC makes this kind of efficiency essential to the plan’s progress.
In addition to NYCEDC’s undertaking of clean-up, recent surges in graffiti have prompted the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) to begin a Graffiti Cleanup campaign and get out on the streets to paint over any building that needs it. With the help of the community, they have successfully removed unwanted graffiti in over 150 different sites across the boroughs including ones on Roebling Street, Driggs Avenue, and Seigel Street.
Both the NYCEDC’s program and the NYPD’s campaign go hand-in-hand with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s launch of the $234 million recovery plan called City Cleanup Corps (CCC). It aims to employ 10,000 New Yorkers total to assist in graffiti and sidewalk clean-up, beautifying parks, and other duties to improve quality of life in NYC. The CCC’s efforts will center most on the 33 neighborhoods most affected by the pandemic.
“On the question of graffiti, you’re going to see a big impact from the Cleanup Corps,” Mayor de Blasio said in a June press briefing. “They’re going to be out there, they’re hiring up as we speak. We’re going to address the graffiti issue across the board and it’s one of many things we’re doing to bring this city back.”
The graffiti cleanup has been for the most part well received, however, one major concern has been of conversation. Although the cleanup plan has been said to be keeping legal murals safe from erasure, not every artist has been protected.
BK Reader reported that Brooklyn artist Michael Kaves filed a class-action lawsuit against the NYPD for painting over his 13-year-old mural that he got permission to paint. Several other artists whose permission-granted artwork has been reported for removal are part of the lawsuit.
Executive Director of the Graham BID, Alberto Valentin, stands against inappropriate and illegal vandalism, but called the covering of legal artwork “a real mistake that shows a real lack of sensitivity to the community.”
In order to simultaneously uplift NYC artists and lessen the amount of unwanted graffiti tags, Valentin proposes a different, more sustainable solution that is more community based. He said that by partnering with community artists to select gates and other surface areas to paint art with a message to it, those areas are less likely to be tagged again, since many taggers know of muralists and respect their work. He is also interested in developing an idea to get taggers more interested in learning how to channel their creativity in the way that muralists do.
“I’m trying to get the community involved in being sensitive and providing some venue for folks who want to express themselves,” he said. “The tough part is getting taggers to communicate in a way that they are willing to agree, since tagging is a counterculture. Some venue has to be created to invite folks to do that. I’m thinking that an artist can come out to do a presentation, and if we can get a few of them to do it, maybe more will follow.”
To inquire about employment with the City Cleanup Corps, visit working.nyc.gov.