The power of street art

Graffiti isn't all bad. Graffiti art could help reduce crime and prevent violence.


Make today better. 

That was the message on a mural created at the LynLake Street Art Series in Minneapolis last summer. The mural started as a black wall painted outside the Jungle Theater on Lyndale Avenue. It ended with a mystical hand holding red flowers, surrounded by three golden butterflies, and those three words. 

Make today better.  

The LynLake Street Art Series returns this summer for a fifth straight year. Organized by the Jungle Theater and LynLake Business Association, this community festival will bring street art, live performance artists, food trucks, vendor booths and community organization tables to the LynLake, Lowry Hill East, Lyndale and South Uptown neighborhoods to promote connection, healing and commerce. The event is free, accessible to all, and will take place on July 16-17. Youth, residents and visitors can support local workers, small business owners, and uplift artist voices. 

The organizers are accepting applications for street artists, muralists, graffiti artists and visual artists. The festival will provide spray paint, scaffolding, artist meals/support, and a stipend.

Anyone interested can apply before April 25.

The purpose of the LynLake Street Art Series is to celebrate street art. Local muralists and graffiti artists are being invited to beautify the neighborhood by painting new works on dozens of LynLake buildings. By bringing street artists out of the underground and into the public view, this event elevates and legitimizes graffiti arts as a worthwhile craft.

Street art and murals are a meaningful way to amplify marginalized voices peacefully. It is a creative outlet, healing practice, community expression, and method of communication for a community that has faced prejudice and discrimination.

As part of the event, Sprayfinger, a nationally recognized youth graffiti arts education organization, will lead youth programming. Sprayfinger builds partnerships with artists, teachers, business owners, arts organizations, community leaders, parents and students to address and discuss the culture, community, expression, and process of graffiti writing as an artistic value. The program provides coursework, outlines, and techniques that align with state education standards to deliver high-quality, authentic graffiti arts instruction.

Sprayfinger was founded by Peyton Scott Russell, a Minneapolis native, and is the result of Russell's work through a Bush Foundation Fellowship. During the LynLake Street Art Series, Sprayfinger will host spray paint booths that allow attendees to "spray and take" their own graffiti art. They will also host jam walls (8-foot-by-8-foot panels) for "emerging" Sprayfinger students to demonstrate their work, accompanied by a student exhibition tent. The booths will give neighborhood youth a chance to make graffiti art, with spray-paint cans, perhaps for the first time, and will connect them with further opportunities to pursue legal artistic outlets.

Graffiti, of course, can be used in negative ways. This form of graffiti has become problematic across Minneapolis, including in Uptown and LynLake, where public and private property gets tagged. This isn't art. It is vandalism. And it's illegal. Property owners, good samaritans or the city have to remove this graffiti. After it's removed, the property often gets tagged again. Sometimes, the graffiti doesn't get removed for a long time or at all. It's a cat-and-mouse game that doesn't beautify or benefit the community. 

But graffiti doesn't have to be a destructive force in the community. Instead of graffiti being used to deface property, what if that energy could be channeled in a positive direction to create street art? What if Russell's work with Sprayfinger could be expanded? There could be designated areas for street art throughout the city. Work could be commissioned. Graffiti art could become a legal, constructive, valued part of our communities. Artists could get paid for their creativity. This artwork would be something we celebrate. Not just for one weekend in the summer, but every day of the year. 

Street art has a long history of being a celebrated art form. But it's always had a countercultural edge and been considered an underground phenomenon. It started in Philadelphia in the late 1960s, then got popularized in New York City in the 1970s, and peaked in the 1980s with spray-painted subway car murals. Graffiti art, freestyle rap and breakdancing were part of hip-hop culture. They provided youth with alternatives to violence. Instead of using weapons or fists to settle disputes, many gangs would "take it to the stage" and have rap duels or breakdance battles. Tagging crews were armed with spray cans.

In more recent years, street art and graffiti projects, and other forms of hip-hop culture, have been used in Latin America to address gang violence and provide alternatives to at-risk youth who might engage in criminal activity. These hip-hop and graffiti-based prevention programs have shown promise.

Can these same approaches be used to reduce crime and prevent violence in Minneapolis?

We can start with street art. And make today better.

To learn more about the LynLake Street Art Series, visit their website.


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