Documenting and analyzing Graffiti and Street Art in connection with COVID-19

Almost every major political or social development seems to inspire individuals to write graffiti or street art.

Over the past two years, a considerable amount of graffiti and street art has been produced in connection with the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, the Black Lives Movement, protests against racist memorials and monuments, and dissatisfaction with former President Trump, his family and administration, and with similar right-wing populist leaders throughout the world (e.g., Bolsonaro).

The public has also witnessed graffiti and street art in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic that has raged throughout the world for the past year-and-a-half. Many of us have seen the images of graffiti and street art connected to the pandemic in the news media, in particular print media (especially newspapers and magazines) and via social media websites like Instagram.

Why has this occurred? In part, there has been an increased availability of urban public space for graffiti writers and street artists to do their work as many retail businesses temporarily or permanently closed, and the windows of their shops have been covered by plywood, thus providing more available canvasses. Even the temporary shelters that many restaurants have erected on sidewalks and streets have been hit by taggers. In NYC alone, in 2019 the city cut its budget in graffiti and street art eradication.

Short of a full accounting of COVID-19 graffiti and street art, researchers Heather Shirey & David Todd Lawrence are trying to achieve, there are a number of recurrent themes that these Coronavirus images play on like fear, frustration, hope, mourning, solidarity, and thanks to front line health care workers like doctors and nurses.

Many of the images are of people, some of them iconic (e.g., Bill Gates, Vincent Van Gough, Steve Jobs, etc.) wearing face masks, protective gloves or other assorted Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). A smattering of graffiti and street art images have superman logos painted on them. Other pieces involve a cataloguing of previous pandemics in order to contextualize the current one that we are experiencing. Some of the work approaching street art have sheets draped as masks in front of murals, street art or graffiti depicting images of people. Otherwise pieces are monochromatic, while others are multicolored.

Most of the content about graffiti and street art and COVID produced by the news media mainly contain images. Few of them provide analyses. But recent scholarship is changing all this. There are now a handful of interesting pieces of scholarship, published in scholarly journals like Crime, Media, Culture, the Nuart Journal, and Visual Studies, that are addressing the graffiti and street art of COVID.

It is through this kind of scholarly analysis that we will have a deeper and richer understanding of the graffiti and street art produced during this time period.

Photo Credit
Photographer: duncan
Title: Coronavirus graffiti, Leake Street

How to tank a state’s economy

In an ideal situation, through the combined processes of immigration, innovation, and productivity, each of the 50 state’s economies grow, and the various types of taxes collected from residents, tourists, businesses, and organizations are used to fund infrastructure projects, educational initiatives, and the overall health and well-being of the community.

Over the last four years, however, the likelihood of this ideal scenario, seems further from reality in many states. It’s not just the devastating economic effects of COVID-19 on the respective economies of each state but there are larger forces at play.

I’m sure it was not planned as such, but the governors and legislators of many Republican dominated states (e.g., Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas. etc.), bolstered by Trumpism, and narrow interpretations of personal freedom, have opposed COVID-19 lockdowns, mask mandates, mandatory vaccinations, and encouraged political gerrymandering favoring Republican districts, and soon restrictions on a woman’s right to have an abortion like what has most recently happened in Texas.

In the long run this political battle is bound to backfire.

These Red states are making it increasingly inhospitable to liberals and progressives who live there, and for people and corporations who are considering opening a business or sustaining one in that state. It’s also giving pause to some out of state tourists to reconsider their plans to visit.

Sure liberals and progressives will always live in college towns located in these states, or cities that have longstanding arts and music scenes like Austin or Nashville, but they are frequently reminded that they are surrounded by hostile forces.

Although some corporations in Red states, because of COVID-19 have made the transition to remote work, and those workers who are not happy with the state’s mandates have high tailed it out of there, those at the top will probably have to stay. But we are now seeing large high tech corporations considering moving out of Republican dominated states.

If the Republican Governors and state legislatures continue to have their way only people who can’t afford to leave will remain. This population is largely older, unskilled, poor and the unemployed. A large number in the high tech sector that leads the way in economic growth and prosperity will leave or never come.

But look at the bright side. In another decade or so, the property values of residential and commercial real estate in those Republican dominated states will be comparatively low, and the unemployment rates should be high. This means that those states might be conducive for low wage low skill manufacturing entities (if they have not completely moved off shore) to briefly relocate there (like they did in North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia two decades ago) to take advantage of the economic climate.

Republicans might temporarily feel smug about winning the battle, but in the end not the war.

Photo Credit:

Photographer: Ed Schipul
Title: Texas State Capital Building

On the need for a low cost, comprehensive, and up to date introductory book on graffiti and street art

Scholarly fields develop in a haphazard manner. Those interested in exploring the vicissitudes of a subject, may for one reason or another contribute to the body of knowledge by writing a conference paper, article or even book. Overtime due to competing demands and interests, these researchers may become disinterested, distracted, or exhausted, and move on to other fields of inquiry and pursuits.

Meanwhile our ability to learn about a subject is dependent on numerous factors. One of the most important is the accessibility and quality of written resources available to people who want to learn about a field.

Some of these (like free material available on the world wide web) are widely distributed and generally easy to access, whereas other written sources require users to make an investment of resources such as attending a class, enrolling in a program of studies, or reading an article or a book.

And just because content is freely available it’s no guarantee that it is of good quality. Sometimes it is quite the opposite.

Nowhere does this seem most pertinent than the field of graffiti and street art studies.

Over the past five decades, numerous scholars have conducted research on graffiti and street art. This work has appeared as articles published in a variety of academic journals and has also resulted in close to a dozen English language academic books. These efforts have examined various theoretical concerns, such as youth subculture, masculinity, and gentrification, as they apply to graffiti and street art and the individuals who engage in this behavior. Meanwhile a handful of edited books review graffiti and street art in a comprehensive manner.

These works are important building blocks in the scholarly understanding of graffiti and street art. They are great reference tools for the field, are important building blocks in the scholarly understanding of graffiti and street art, and are the basis of important discussions held by people deeply interested in graffiti and street art.

However, there are noticeable shortcomings with some of these books. These drawbacks mainly revolve around the fact that they are outdated, take narrow (sometimes esoteric) perspectives on the subject matter, ignore significant relevant scholarship, are overly academic in tone, and can be comparatively quite pricey.

The development of scholarship on graffiti and street art is predictably uneven, being shaped more by academic arguments, interests of the scholars who conduct research on this subject, and the gatekeeping activities performed by editors and reviewers for academic journals and publishing companies.

Meanwhile, the field of graffiti and street art is frequently changing including, but not limited to, the important role and influence of social media websites like Facebook and Instagram, responses by municipalities, and the increasing commodification of graffiti and street art.

Although serendipity has its advantages in some domains, a book on graffiti and street art that not only treats the subject matter in a comprehensive manner, but is also up to date and engaging could prove to be very helpful.

This book, would integrate scholarly research, interviews with practitioners, and images of graffiti and street art to explain the fields’ growth, the people who engage in this activity, and reactions to it, accessible to non-specialists and scholars alike. The book would also review causes, reactions, and so-called solutions to challenges generated by the existence of graffiti and street art.

Until then knowledge about graffiti and street art will be more idiosyncratic in the manner it is collected and presented to wider audience.