Dan Lawlor: Unsupported Communities Undermine Society
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
The novelist Ayn Rand asked "Who is John Galt?" I ask, "Who is UCUS?"
Over and over again, on multiple surfaces in the capital city, I see the same white tag: "UCUS."
From signposts in India Point Park, to store fronts in Valley, again and again, "UCUS."
In Turkish, ucus means "flight." A flight of fancy in a city with over 10% jobless?
UCUS, whoever or whatever she, he, or it is, is not alone. "Logo," "Latz," and "FML" are also prominent Providence graffiti taggers. Their writing is direct, quick, not very complicated - and often on the sides of small businesses.
In a bit of poignancy, both the empty Bomes Theater on Broad St and the closed Castle Cinema on Chalkstone Ave have been tagged with a stylized version of the word, "DIE." Happily, it appears a third long struggling theater, the Columbus on Broadway, will be re-opening this November! Still, alongside the good news, numerous taggers are making a point about decaying neighborhood structures in our midst.
Beginning with Mayor Cicilline, and continuing today under Mayor Taveras, there is a neighborhood grafitti task force removal team and hotline. The Mayor himself has gotten involved in graffiti removal and re-painting, notably at his old alma mater, Roger Williams. The line does ask for your name and contact information, which might deter some reporting, but its a good step to engage residents in building community.
Providence has a history of local taggers and graffiti artists going big - most notably RISD alum Shepard Fairey, and the crew from the demolished Fort Thunder in Olneyville. Street art, when engaged imaginatively, can be a tool for providing jobs, skills, and meaning to a lot of people on the margins.
In the film "Beautiful Losers," a documentary about the transition of a group from 90's era graffiti taggers to acclaimed international artists, the artist Barry McGee argues, "Look, it doesn't hurt anybody, it's not permanent."
I'm not against street art, but its clear that taggers are given more free reign in some neighborhoods than others. That irks me because it suggests that some neighborhoods are more deserving of resources than others. The free reign is not the taggers fault.
The taggers are just being more upfront about recognizing what some people don't - some neighborhoods and some businesses are more politically important than others. The small business owners and senior centers whose sides and entry ways are being tagged deserve more support. Downtown businesses are strengthened in part by a neighborhood improvement district - why can't something like that be operating in business districts throughout the city?
We're the creative capital - shouldn't we be able to channel these taggers into competitions, park design, and more socially productive ways of using their art? Of course, for that to happen our charitable community would need to fund something like it. The Providence Journal, for one institution, doesn't even sponsor a spelling bee anymore. Yet, in the end, if we really are the creative capital, we will find a way forward that supports all neighborhoods, not just the East Side and Downtown.
The prominence of taggers like FML, Ucus, and Logo seems to correspond to the degree in which an area has been forgotten by the city at large.
Who is Ucus? Ucus is a reminder. Unsupported Communities Undermine Society.
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