Keep South Bend beautiful: Street art vs. graffiti

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Photo courtesy of cad
Photo courtesy of CAD



Staff Writer


We all know that “art” is a relative term, but what about street art? It is far more controversial than anything done on a personal canvas.

Our city officials say that they support art. What I think they mean is that they support covering trees downtown with yarn, and parties where you learn to do the same painting as everyone else whilst guzzling wine. While I appreciate the skill it takes to make a tree cozy, I also like to see street art.

A well-done piece of street art can be inspiring, and South Bend has had its share of outstanding art. The first piece that comes to mind is the 8-bit Mario and goombas that were on the bridge at Northside Blvd.  It was my introduction to street art outside of the bubble-lettered tags that rode by on trains. When they were covered up, I wondered who had the heart or was getting paid to slather on the boring, white paint.

As it turns out, there is a program called the Graffiti Abatement Program. The Parks Department website exclaims, “Help keep South Bend Beautiful!”  South Bend residents are encouraged to pick up supplies and clean the graffiti themselves if they feel compelled.

In my neighborhood, there was a small piece of art applied to a sign. The work was of Audrey Hepburn and JFK connected at the midsection in a mirror image over the horizontal axis. My mom and I got a kick out of it, and were surprised to see the sign (post and all) removed from the road. Even more surprising was that the “Speed Limit 420” and “Don’t Stop Believin’” signs were still there.  We thought that it must have been stolen because it was so good and hoped that this was not the result of the Graffiti Abatement Program.

According to a link on the Parks Department website, one argument in favor of the program is that gang-related graffiti is a way that gangs claim turf. This is true and worth noting, but Mario and Mega Man are not gang affiliated the last time I checked. It seems to me that the abundance of gang tags have been neglected in favor of covering the art. I had hopes that the emphasis of the program was covering gang-related work quickly to curb related violence.

Most recently, CAD pieces were everywhere. The work was incredible. All of the pieces were clearly labors of love, not invoking gang violence.  If you passed by the large-scale Boba Fett downtown, did you think that you should become a bounty hunter or did you have a good chuckle? City Officials did not think it was funny. Instead of cleaning gang tags, the priority was getting rid of Boba.

Again, there are many views on what counts as art and what is vandalism. Some business owners and citizens are not bothered by street art while others see it simply as defacement. Regardless, Code Enforcement gets the final word.

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