In San Diego during the 90’s graffiti was a huge issue facing the city. The public sphere was constantly being vandalized with graffiti, and the city had really no way of controlling it. Somewhere along the line, the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation discovered that the majority of the tagging wasn’t being done by gangs, but simply by the young kids. Obviously it was popular among that demographic in San Diego at the time to go out and tag, as it is in many urban areas around the country, but it seemed to be getting out of hand. The Jacobs Center felt that it was time to create something that would allow kids in San Diego to learn about graffiti and practice it legally rather than go out and tag.
A project called “Graff Creek” was initiated which allowed people to renovate certain areas and essentially build them into a space for public art. There was clearly a demand for this as well, because several hundred kids showed up to volunteer to their time. Some progress was made, and Graff Creek was doing relatively well. Shortly after, a fairly substantial piece of property was donated to the project, and it was renamed Writerz Blok. It included several buildings for workers as well as a huge outdoor venue for graffiti artists. After this Writerz Blok really took off and could hardly keep up with the amount of young artists wanting to come do their thing. Today Writerz Blok is so popular that most work is painted over in a matter of days.
Gangs and graffiti often times seem to go hand in hand, so Writerz Blok could either perpetuate the gang problem, or they could try to stop it. They chose the latter, and implemented a series of policies to make Writerz block a space for art rather than a sanctuary for gang symbols. With these rules, Writerz Blok seems to have succeeded in keeping gang influence out of the venue. The site is now considered one of the most successful contemporary art programs in the state. In fact, Writerz Blok is first park created strictly for graffiti in the country.
As Writerz Blok develops, it seems to have the goal of making graffiti a more acceptable form of expression. On the park’s website it says that they are “working to establish partnerships with local arts institutions including the Museum of Contemporary Art and the San Diego Museum of Art” (Writerz Blok) and are focused on “helping bring this art form to new and more traditional arts audiences.” The end goal, in addition to creating safe venues for graffiti artists, is “raising awareness, increasing respect, and achieving more wide spread appreciation for graffiti as a legitimate and museum-worthy art form.” (Writerz Blok)
I’m somewhat conflicted on this, because on the one hand I agree that graffiti artists should have more respect, but I don’t know if being”museum-worthy art” is all that great. Essentially I don’t think that graffiti needs to be placed in museums for it to advance as a form of expression. Part of what makes graffiti cool is the fact that it is intermixed with it’s surroundings wherever it is done, but that isn’t very typical of art found in museums. I don’t know if the creators of Writerz Blok and other graffiti artists should want to be included in the upscale art scene, because I think in many ways it could curtail their work.
I think that Writerz Blok has done a great thing here, and that is create a public space for young artists that aren’t very conventional. However, I’m not sure if tagging or graffiti can reach it’s full potential when done in these sort of venue’s. I think part of what makes street art like graffiti so effective is the fact that it can incorporate it’s landscape into the meaning of the work. When you look at the work of someone like Bansky it’s clear why this is the case. He will often strategically place his work on certain buildings, and through this placement the work can take on a whole new meaning. I can’t imagine Banksy producing the same kind of work if he was restricted to a space like the Blok. I’ve included some images of his work above, I encourage you to check them out. Overall, Writerz Blok simply doesn’t allow for this sort of creativity because it is such a fixed space. Perhaps it doesn’t matter for some graffiti artists, but I’ve always thought that the location of graffiti and other street art plays a huge role in its message.
You can go check out more about Writerz Blok on their website at www.writerzblok.com