Where can art exist? Graffiti versus vandalism…

“What was once seen as scribbles by rebellious kids, however, has joined the mainstream: a colorful, two-dimensional rendition of someone’s name on the side of a building goes from vandalism to fine art when that piece appears in a gallery.”
I recently interviewed an Atlanta-based graffiti artist named POEST about his first gallery exhibit. He has been “bombing” buildings with color since he was in middle school, during the mid-1980’s. The 40-something year old Brooklyn native has never fully stopped creating graffiti, even while he worked at a firm on Wall Street. Now, his work is transitioning from the streets to the gallery in an exhibit called Outside In at the Mason Fine Art Gallery in Buckhead.
He curated the exhibit, showcasing the work of other Atlanta-based graffiti artists whose messages we pass on our ways to work or to run errands each day. These colorful expressions of hip-hop and self are eye sores for some and public art for others. It begs the question, where can art exist? Why does the galley grant a level of acceptability that the street does not? After all, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Click the link below to read our full interview, where we talked about everything from rap lyrics to free speech to vandalism.

Read the full interview here: http://www.artsatl.com/2015/08/qa-poest/

“You are trapped by your ZIP code”

I grew up in DeKalb County, Georgia most of my life. DeKalb County is home to one of the largest and wealthiest black middle class populations in the country, and has been home to that population for 20+ years. However, in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, many schools in the southern part of the county became overcrowded and had trailors in the school yard. To respond to this problem, the county created a program called M2M, which stood for Minority 2 Majority. The reason for the name is because the northern part of the county is majority white (and has been for many years), and the schools in that area were underpopulated (smaller classroom sizes), and therefore often better. Keep in mind, this before No Child Left Behind really took effect.

For almost 10 years, through M2M black students were bused to schools in the northern part of the county, and as one of those students, I can say, socially, everyone’s horizons were broadened. Diversity enhances everyone’s education experiences, it’s just true. As a matter of fact, it was the parents who had the problem, not the students. I had friends whose houses I was allowed to go to, but they couldn’t come to mine.

M2M ended in 2003 and became a limited lottery-based system called Optional Transfer, until it was completely dissolved. The reason for the dissolve was that a city on the northern end of the county called Doraville experienced an influx of Latino immigrant students in the early 2000’s. Many were either undocumented or refugees from conflicts in Mexico and Central America. The county shut down the program (in the middle of the school year), basically saying that they did not need M2M anymore, because the schools had been diversified by Latino students.

My family moved to a better school district in a better area when I was 14, so I was largely unaffected by this change. However, for some of the students who were forced to go back to the overcrowded schools in their districts, the consequences were grave. I see some of those people who I knew from that time in my life, and they do not have two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree like I do. Some became teen parents, some are working minimum wage jobs. I know that my  life and education would have been different if it were not for that program. However, I would have been protected longer from facing the realities of white privilege and having my blackness questioned, hair touched, qualifications prodded, and generally being scrutinized by people who simply did not understand the constant code switching that I had to (and still have to) do in order to get through the day– I was in middle school.

Even if it’s just background noise, listen to Chicago Public Radio’s This American Life program “The Problem We All Live With.” It talks about a scenario much like the one I just described happening in the year 2014 in Missouri. Here is the link: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/562/the-problem-we-all-live-with