By Meghan Brown, James Gannon and Aaron Gordon
The City Auditor’s Office recently released its first audit on Seattle’s graffiti prevention and removal efforts. The report revealed that last year the city of Seattle spent around $1.8 million removing graffiti from public property.
Based on a web survey of 900 Seattle business owners and residents, the audit concluded that 39 percent don’t mind graffiti while another 40 percent view it as a medium-to-large problem. These statistics appear to correlate with the public rate of victimization, with 37 percent of the public having never been victims, and 33 having been a victim at least once in the past year. The report concludes that people whose property has been vandalized believe graffiti is a problem, while those who haven’t suffered property damage don’t.
“Very few graffiti artists are often responsible for the majority of the crimes,” says City Auditor David Jones. For this reason, the report suggests implementing a photo database that tracks graffiti in the greater Seattle area. Jones believes the proposed database will provide the necessary evidence to prosecute prolific graffiti artists.
The report also suggests amending the Seattle Municipal Code to include stickers as illegal. According to Jane Dunkel, the assistant city auditor, stickers were the most commonly used graffiti medium in each surveyed area of Seattle. Of the stickers that the audit team saw, many were postal labels tagged with graffiti.
Sticker artists believe that if the law were to prohibit stickers as it prohibits graffiti, it would ignore fundamental differences between the two forms of expression.
They purport to have an unspoken code of ethics that urges them to stay away from private property. “You don’t put stickers on mom-and-pop joints. You don’t etch in windows. You don’t do something that makes people suffer by losing a great deal of money,” claims a veteran sticker artist who signs her work under the name Maggie.
Maggie views entertainment value as essential to her stickers. “If the art makes you take a second glance or makes you smile, job well done.”
The content of sticker art can range from lighthearted cartoon images, to advertisements, to tagged postal stickers. The auditor has yet to distinguish which types should be illegal. Many North Seattle businesses use stickers to advertise, so the distinction between legal and illegal stickers is especially crucial for them to know.
Maggie asks, “What are they gonna do? Fine a business every time one of its stickers is placed on a light pole?”
Under the Graffiti Nuisance Code, property owners are required to promptly remove graffiti once notified by the city or face a fine.
Brandon Wright, owner of a graffiti-removal business, says the city holds a double standard to business owners who’ve been targeted with graffiti. “The government shouldn’t be subjecting private property owners to fines if it can’t entirely take care of graffiti on public property.”
Wright believes that graffiti vandalism will never be solved if taggers and sticker artists don’t have an outlet.
He says, “The city and the people need to promote free walls for people to put their art on.”
Produced by students in CLP-taught Multimedia Freelancing class, Summer 2010.