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Art vs. vandalism
Graffiti has long stopped being considered all out vandalism with the term ‘street art’ being more widely used as a more positive description of graffiti in urban environments.

Street art in Brighton has become a much-loved part of the fabric of our creative city and particularly recently, areas that were previously nothing but a fly-tipped eyesore have been cleaned up, with local street artists given permission and financial support to use these walls for murals.

Some councils and commercial property owners around the country have done well to foster a tolerance – as opposed to zero tolerance of vandalism – and recognising that rather than degrade environments, street art can do a lot to improve them.

Who decides?
However, the distinction between whether graffiti is beneficial to environments and communities, whether it should be tolerated and who should make these decisions has become a central issue in changing attitudes towards street art in cities around the world. With the cost of removing ‘graffiti’ in the UK reaching £27m per year, perhaps the answer is not to be so quick to remove it?

In 2007, Bristol City council came up red-faced after removing a Banksy mural reported to be worth over £100,000, sparking public outrage and the beginnings of the formulation of an official policy to manage the issue of street art. A test poll run earlier this year regarding another Banksy piece in Bristol, resulted in 93% of respondents supporting it’s preservation. Bristol City Council has now formally published the first draft of its tolerance policy.

A fresh approach
While there is controversy among street artists about how this policy is exercised these are positive steps towards the acceptance of different perceptions of art in society, and making judgements that reflect communities wishes rather than exercising black and white rules. Some early mistakes have been made by the council, discourse between the council and street artists has continued to develop a viable framework. Work is now in progress towards a social media initiative that will allow photos of graffiti to be posted online for the public to vote whether the piece should remain or not.

Unsurprisingly, the fine art world is not impressed; art critic Brian Sewell objected that the council are “bonkers” and that “the two words ‘graffiti’ and ‘art’ should never be put together … the public doesn’t know good from bad.”
(Guardian.co.uk, August 2009)

Personally, I think this initiative shows a positive step forward not only in dealing with this issue but in transparency in society and the use of social media to involve communities in choices about their environment. It means that not only are the public getting a say in their environment (as opposed to one person who complains because they may not like something or do not approve of graffiti), but that street artists – and taggers – are being judged by their peers and the community, not just someone at the council – or some fine art boffin.

Bristol Council’s initiative is just one of many connecting the public with street art in changing urban environments.

View Brighton street art on the BBC website.

The Bristol Street Art Project features Bristol street art and an interactive walking map of where to find it all.

Street Art Dealer is a technology innovation allowing the public to get more info on public art, in the street, via mobile phones, and also to buy prints of the work from the artists.