Gentrification contributes to demise of graffiti in DC

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Maren Dunn

The neighborhoods and streets of DC are splattered with art. For years, citizens have left their mark on the nation’s capital by splashing its brown brick walls with professional-level art such as murals and the more expressionist style of graffiti. Graffiti is so closely intertwined with the culture that we don’t seem to realize it’s been changing in a drastic way. As DC becomes more and more gentrified, space for these artists to work is becoming limited.

While there are laws that prohibit the demolition of historic buildings, there are no laws that preserve any artwork on buildings. Recently, a portrait of Frederick Douglass painted proudly on the side of an office building near Union Station was covered up with new construction.

“It’s a little hard to find a spot to put any really good tags,” an anonymous graffiti artist, who is a senior at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, explained. As an alternative, the artist prefers “making prints for stickers and posters.”

The graffiti artist got interested in graffiti in 2017, after attending the program Words Beats & Life. “My teacher had us plan designs so when we use spray paint it flows easier,” the artist explained. Because of laws pertaining to vandalism, the teacher does not encourage students to do graffiti illegally.

In up and coming neighborhoods like 14th Street and H Street, flashy new apartments are being built every day. In these neighborhoods, some new buyers prefer legal murals, painted to their specific preference, and paid artists are eager to provide, often painting murals over graffiti.

The main differences between graffiti and murals are important ones: Murals are painted by someone being paid to do them, and are legal, while graffiti is not. Despite this, new murals appear to mimic the DC graffiti style, although the creative process and situation are far from it.

DC lawmakers have undergone attempts to cut down on graffiti. In 2016, they considered passing a bill that would raise the fine from $250 to $2,500. As of now, the fine hasn’t changed.

“Considering that graffiti is everyone’s favorite ‘aesthetic’ nowadays,” the senior thinks the rise in the fine is unfair. “Graffiti is a fun way of doing my art that is easy to share with others, and looks sweet.”

Street art shapes our city, and with it comes a unique style that adds flavor to DC. For that to be eradicated, DC would look drastically different. So appreciate it while you can, and hope the city reasons to keep this form of art, or the only place you will be able to see it is in a tourist-packed museum.