Graffiti artists leave mark on campus
Published: Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 23:03
A rise in graffiti over the last month makes for some new scenery for students, and that's creating more work for the physical plant.
"Within the last month, my staff has spent probably around 20 man hours cleaning graffiti around campus," said Dale Osburn, associate director of physical plant. "Probably because it's been warmer at night."
Osburn also said even though the physical plant only spends about $250 per year on the removal of graffiti, it's very labor-intensive.
Director of Campus Safety James Terry said that in cooperation with the physical plant, he likes to operate by the "broken window" policy. According to Terry, this means the broken window — or in this case, graffiti — gets taken care of as quickly as possible.
Osburn said the majority of the graffiti he has seen on campus is around the Student Center and the Memorial Fountain. However, one local graffiti artist, EPIK VSK, disagrees.
"I've noticed more graffiti around Smith Hall and Old Main," EPIK said. "The flyer and message board on Old Main gets hit a lot, as well as the trash cans all over campus. The only work I've seen at the Student Center is maybe a stencil or two and a bunch of those ‘Hello, my name is' stickers. This isn't really a lot compared to other areas."
EPIK has been creating graffiti for the past five years, mainly in the South Charleston, Cross Lanes and St. Albans areas. EPIK said they have been in Huntington for roughly eight months now, and he plans to stay.
"Huntington is a bit of a breeding ground for graffiti artists," EPIK said. "It's kinda small, there isn't a lot of heat on writers and it's relatively safe to go out and write. It's a great environment for an artist to go out and put their name up and become known. But if you ever want to become big, you need to move up and hit freights or move to a bigger city."
EPIK, a somewhat new graffiti artist in the West Virginia graffiti scene, said that young writers are popping up and tagging all over the place. Rime VSK is another member of EPIK's crew who is relatively new. Other new writers include Nark, Man and Shape who have painted on campus and the surrounding area in the recent weeks, proof that Huntington is becoming a playground for graffiti.
Graffiti is a misdemeanor crime and, depending on the number of tags an artist has or the severity of the crime, an artist could see a hefty fine or time in jail if caught. Last April, two men were sentenced to 30 days in jail and five months probation after being caught spraying the word "Zombi" on the 400 block of 11th Street. The word is still visible all over Huntington, especially downtown.
"It's very illegal," EPIK said. "We are defacing public property. That's one of the reasons why people join crews."
Crews, according to EPIK, are groups of writers who go out and write together to watch each other's backs. Most crews stay focused only on graffiti, but are still considered a gang.
"The definition of a gang," EPIK said, "is three or more individuals working and committing crimes together. My crew, VSK (Violent Style Kids), is strictly focused to graffiti; we don't sell drugs or anything like that. In bigger cities, some of the crews and artists originate from actual gangs, so the crews there may be more violent or wild."
According to Lisa Martin, director of judicial affairs, the Marshall University student code of conduct section 5.a. regards the defacement and destruction of university and private property. Martin said most of the time you have to see the person in the act of writing to apply the code. She also said if anyone reports the graffiti and knows who wrote it, then they should immediately contact her office.
"I urge anyone who sees somebody writing on buildings and campus property to call my office so we can investigate and help stop graffiti on campus," Martin said.
"I think there is an easy solution to the problem," EPIK said. "Graffiti is illegal because it defaces public property and costs the government money to clean."
EPIK suggests that one way to curb the destruction of property all over campus, would be to designate a wall or surface for writers or even all students to express themselves, whether as a "tagger" or as a concerned student. The wall would act as a public forum for students to voice opinions and even advertise for Greek life and student government.
"The whole point of graffiti isn't necessarily to destroy property, but to become famous for your designs and work," EPIK said. "Everyone thinks the street murals and huge or elaborate pieces are beautiful, but before an artist can reach that level, they have to have practice. The problem is that practicing is illegal."
Tyler Wolfe can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.