New York City is at its best when it’s unpredictable, which means the artistic side of it can assault you at any turn. You get on the subway and the showtime dancers are actually really great, pulling off vertical balancing-on-the-pole moves that should earn them a shot on one of those TV talent shows, if not the Olympics. You pick up a free book on a stoop and end up discovering an author who speaks to you in new ways; you check out a comedy show on a whim and Ilana Glazer or Louis C.K. are doing a drop in to work out new material. It’s on this fault line of coincidence and street-level art where graffiti exists: Some of it is the spraypaint equivalent of an overturned trashcan, blowing unsightly tags and crude messages down your street in a chaotic jumble. Some of it is awe-striking works of of majesty, big burners of intricate designs that turn a bland wall into “how the fuck did they get up there?” feats of color and imagination.
Cities everywhere have been battling graffiti for decades, and New York has long tried to shed the image of the 70s and 80s crime-ridden metropolis where tag-covered subway cars were a symbol of urban decay. But did you know you can get $500 for snitching on graffiti to the NYPD? Would you do it?
The NYPD’s incentive offers you $500 if you provide info that leads to the arrest and conviction of someone doing graffiti vandalism; you’re supposed to call 911 to report a vandalism in progress and 311 to share info. What counts as “vandalism?” Technically any effort to deface private or public property, especially in a way that would cause someone to have to stay out there in the heat with a bucket and sponge like the kid from Free Willy.
We have yet to find anyone that likes graffiti on their own property,” the NYPD tweeted over the weekend, and since I am not an owner of property, I don’t know if that’s true. But I do know graffiti straddles the gray area of New York life: The art and spontaneity of it is stitched into the fabric of New York. You could no more picture a New York City without graffiti than you could one without pigeons or falafel carts. Most people, if asked, probably wouldn’t want a city completely devoid of graffiti either: look at the outcry when graffiti mecca 5 Pointz was painted over (though there were always some detractors to 5 Pointz, who argued graffiti by nature should be feral and not penned into one sanctioned venue).
— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) June 5, 2016
Meanwhile, over the weekend, the world’s most famous graffiti artist struck a school — and the school is happy about it. A school in Bristol, England named one of its houses (like the Harry Potter kind) after Banksy. So as a thank-you present, Banksy tagged a mural on the side of the school’s wall. A caretaker first noticed it and almost cleaned it off; but the school decided to keep the artwork in place.
Three years ago, NYC was treated to a month-long daily scavenger hunt when Banksy set up a residency here, debuting a new piece almost every day, leading an electric current of excitement throughout the city. Would someone have snitched on Banksy if they saw his work in progress? Would you?
I’m no art critic, but I can say that the city can be oppressive in its grayness sometimes: looming towers of concrete (and, increasingly, the soulless omnipresence of rich-person-cooking glass) casting shadows over the little patches of light we get. Much of the city is also uncared for: buildings that have sat abandoned for years, untended highway overpasses, gross train yards and construction walls everywhere you look. These are the kinds of places the detritus from your overturned trash can end up; I rarely see a situation where big colorful graffiti makes it look any worse.
We live in a city where people talk about their favorite graffiti artists like they talk about their favorite bands (I have a soft spot for You Go Girl, though Neck Face is my favorite name for an artist). Tourist-friendly guides to finding the best graffiti spots are plentiful. And then there are the vigilante artists who take take pen and knife to some of our the more eyeroll worthy subway advertisements or brand-sponsored billboards to basically say what we’re all thinking (or at least draw a dick in someone’s mouth).
$500 is nothing to shake a sponge at though; so in what situations would you try to collect it? Let us know in the comments — I’ve thought long and hard about it and here are the only situations I would snitch on a bombing in progress:
-Someone is tagging the windows of a business of a friend/shopkeeper I know personally.
-Someone spray painting something racist/pro-Trump.
-Someone trying to bomb a monument (except this one) or existing piece of art.
-Someone spray painting someone directly in the face as they say “hey stop spray painting me, I’m a person not a wall, that really hurts.”
-Somebody is tagging some really awful shit, just like awful uninspired dreck derivative of other graffiti artists, lacking any inspiration or pathos, real trite stuff.
-I become an old who wants New York City to turn into a squeaky clean pre-planned housing subdivision, the kind where you get an angry letter in the mail from the homeowners association if your mailbox is a different color.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments!