Painting the town

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You've likely seen them: spray-painted squiggles on the sides of downtown buildings - courtesy of people who thought it would be a good idea to give Augusta a New York City makeover during the holidays.

Downtown property owners - the ones who have to clean up the mess - got together last week to bounce around ideas of how to solve the city's growing graffiti problem.

One idea that might have legs is the creation of a graffiti wall. Seen in cities all over the world, graffiti walls are set aside or specifically constructed as a legal place for graffiti artists to paint the town without actually painting the town.

Janie Peel, Richmond County's economic development ombudsman, is looking into an Augusta graffiti wall. She says the concept seems to be working in other cities, particularly in southern California.

Surprisingly, disputes infrequently arise over painting over another person's work because the participants police themselves, she said. And some cities who have the walls report a drop in graffiti elsewhere in those cities.

We certainly wouldn't discourage officials from pursuing that as an answer to the graffiti problem.

But there's graffiti, and there's graffiti.

Several of these walls are striking, and you can tell that the people who took part in creating them really care about their artwork.

There's the difference, you see. It's artwork. It doesn't take long to realize, after looking at one of these colorful walls, that a graffiti artist goes through a creative process like any artist.

But what we see scrawled on Augusta private property are acts of vandalism. These disrespectful punks who waste perfectly good paint tagging buildings aren't bored kids who need a legal place to unleash their artistic creativity.

For whatever invalid reasons they do it, they're doing it at least for the cheap thrill of thinking they're somehow getting away with something. And these kids aren't going to spray-paint a graffiti wall that the authorities actually want them to spray-paint. They want to do the exact opposite.

No one has come to Ms. Peel at this early stage and said, "Hey, use my property for a graffiti wall!" But she has an interesting idea: It doesn't have to be a wall. Offer up a building about to be torn down. Since the clock already is ticking on the life of the library's main branch on Greene Street, she offered as an example, why not throw it open to graffiti artists a few weeks before its scheduled demolition?

We're not knocking down the idea of a graffiti wall, but it may be misplaced optimism to think that artistic graffiti in one place will reduce crude, barely legible vandalism elsewhere.


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