Highland Park faces the same problem many Los Angeles communities face on a daily basis. Overnight the walls of businesses and public property are covered in what some refer to as art and others as graffiti resulting from acts of vandalism. Franklin High School is no stranger to overnight paint jobs.
Last month, the high school and Hathaway-Sycamore’s Family Resource Center sponsored an aerosol art competition. Students from Franklin and Eagle Rock High Schools participated in the first of what coordinators hope to be an annual event, centered on alternative avenues of artistic expression in hopes of discouraging graffiti in the form of vandalism.
Vandalism causes considerable damage to property and can result in serious conflicts among street gangs and non-traditional graffiti gangs.
“The purpose of the aerosol art competition was to allow students to express themselves through another form of art and give them a safe platform to show their talented skills and creativity amongst the community of Highland Park,” said Aries Santiago, Youth Program coordinator.
Participants were required to sign a peace pledge, written by coordinators with input from students, outlining their commitment to practicing art in appropriate venues and promoting peace, culture, education, and safety.
Students swore, “I will not damage other art work or private property in my community and wherever I stand,” “I will obey the laws of the land and will not participate in defacing private property and endangering my life or those around me,” and “I will strive to be a law obeying citizen and create value wherever I go,” among other points as stated in the pledge.
Franklin High School is displaying the artwork of the competition winners.
“The kids that presented themselves said they were tired of seeing graffiti in the hallways [of their school] and wanted to see other forms of art… With the winners’ art displayed for the first time in the school, hopefully, this will help encourage other forms of art and decrease graffiti within the school and community,” said Santiago.
But Franklin High School’s Principal Luis Lopez explains that while the event was productive and positive for the community he sees little impact and is not relying on it to help decrease vandalism, “Usually those that participate [in these events] are kids that are artistic and creative. We don’t attract the vandals.” He adds,
“I have mixed feelings. I don’t see it. I have thought about exploring different possibilities that offer the same thing, but there’s no tangible data that says it works. It has been done at other schools but there’s no real decrease in graffiti.”
Instead Lopez employs the “Broken Window” theory: “We have the same policies and application as businesses: as it comes up, we take it down. As soon as it goes up it invites more graffiti.”
Overall, Lopez calls the event successful in uniting the community of Highland Park. While the event may not have immediate impact on the reduction of graffiti, it did bring together a community in a safe environment. Lopez also recognizes the need to provide students with alternative forms of expression and hopes that it becomes a reoccurring event stating, “This is a venue that they need and we need to provide it.”