The mystique of aerosol is contagious, and many youth find themselves in trouble when they are first exposed to the medium. Urban Art is perhaps the biggest world-wide contemporary art movement. Films such as Exit Through the Gift Shop, Bomb It!, Beautiful Losers and countless others delve into the movement. From its ancient past of primitive mark making, to its early iterations of urban protest, through its vast commercialization and globalization, Urban Art has grown into a ubiquitous presence in almost every city in the world. From rural Nebraska to the heart of Omaha, young people are entranced by the movement.
The birth of our program was a response to the sketch books of our applicants, brimming with Letter Forms, and the call of youth service organizations in Omaha that did not have the means, experience or desire to create a safe alternative to graffiti. For clarification, graffiti is the illegal form of Urban Art. Like any creative practice, graffiti has its own language. The word itself evokes associations to jazz, rhythm, and melody. Graffiti artists refer to themselves as Writers. The Letter Forms they create as monikers are called tags. The styles and shapes of these pieces are as varied as type face and are often unreadable to the uninitiated. They are meant to be. Writers read each others tags to identify and communicate with each other: where they are from, their neighborhoods, schools and cities.
And… The punishment for a second offense for a minor who gets caught doing graffiti is a felony for vandalism. A serious crime in our city and a major obstacle to a young person entering adulthood. The city spends many thousands of dollars cleaning up public spaces, private businesses, telephone poles and signs. They work hard to identify gang graffiti and city wide vandalism trends. There is in fact a database, where each tag the city cleans up goes. This data is often used as evidence to prosecute the offenders.
Enter our mural arts program. We work closely with the city, and the graffiti abatement committee to generate safe and legal alternatives for young artists interested in Urban Art. We also explore urban arts in the studio, on canvases, skate board decks and toy trains. Our program is in the business of prevention and educating young people on the legal wall process, community engagement and of course, developing their creative voice.
This year we completed our 30th mural in the metro area, or 16,ooo square feet of painting. We’ve paired young artists (many past graffiti offenders) with professional artist to paint murals in libraries, youth detention centers, under bridges, on fire stations, schools, youth service organizations, private businesses, community gardens and other non-profits.
Each mural is designed in collaboration with our students and the community surrounding each mural location. Urban Art is growing and evolving. We are running to keep up, to face the challenges of this community, to meet the need and to keep young people safe and out of harm’s way.
Check out our updated mural map at joslyn.org to see pictures of the work, young artists, mentors and our community partners involved. -Thom