Graffiti is such a nuisance in Oak Cliff that city councilman Delia Jasso has made addressing it, through education and graffiti wipeouts, one of her top priorities. It’s easy to see graffiti as a scourge that deserves severe penalties. But some artists see it as a cry for attention from creative young people who need an artistic outlet. Kevin Obregon, an Oak Cliff artist who co-owns the Cube Creative studio and gallery, is launching a mural project called Cliffwalls that aims to fight graffiti with art.
What’s the idea behind the Cliffwalls project?
Part of it has to do with community outreach in the schools. It entails bringing in graffiti artists and muralists as guest speakers. The graffiti artists come in and talk about what it’s like to be arrested and living in jail, but still seeking street credibility with the graffiti. They get to hear the bad parts of it, and then they get to hear from these graffiti artists who have changed their game plan to become professional artists.
And you’ll do murals in the schools?
Then some muralists in the Cliffwalls stable will be called on to help schools execute their own murals. The children get to work with and be mentored by professional and amateur muralists and artists, and they learn all the intricacies and math involved in putting up a mural. And they get to figure out how to manage a project like that. They get that sense of accomplishment, that sense of ownership. And then, should the mural get tagged or defaced, they get an emotional response to see what it’s like having your work defaced.
So it’s about more than making murals, really?
It’s not only executing murals; it’s a workshop opportunity, and kids get to formulate a dialog about what is good graffiti and what is bad graffiti. We’re artists, and we know that graffiti is a valid art form. When taggers see that there’s a way for them to express their artistic selves and they can become professional artists, it changes their outlook.
Artists are going to be creating their own murals as well?
We have professional muralists putting up murals along our corridors. Since this is Oak Cliff-centered, the first corridor we’re working on is Seventh Street [between Bishop and Tyler]. They will be quality murals by quality artists from all over Dallas.
How are you getting permission to paint them?
If you’re a building owner, you can pay for a mural and commission it according to your desires. Prices will be determined by size, detail, style and the artist who is selected. But generally, it might be $1 to $5 per square foot. If they want to donate their building, then we encourage that, but they won’t get to decide what the artist paints. They’ll have to live with the art that’s on there.
Why do you want building owners to pay for the murals?
Although they’re altruistic by nature, artists are asked to donate their artwork all the time and sacrifice their income. We want to be able to pay the artists stipends for their work. And then there are costs for storage and paint, touch-up kits and other supplies.
What makes you think they will pay?
Building owners have to grin and bear what taggers do to their buildings. We have a mural on this building [at Tyler and Davis], and it’s been up for a long time, and it’s untouched. No one has so much as taken a marker to it. It takes a lot of gumption to write over someone else’s artwork like that. —Rachel Stone