Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Making Graffiti a 'Gift' to the Community

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Making Graffiti a 'Gift' to the Community

Article excerpt

Park program teaches teens how to legally participate in graffiti art

Graffiti has long been a menace to public parks, viewed as vandalism more than art, as it appears unsolicited on walls, benches or buildings. But a program at one park is putting spray cans into the hands of teens, teaching them how to legally use them as a form of expression.

"I'm a real proponent of graffiti art within the community in a legal way," says Alec McDowell, manager of Wakefield Skate Park in Annandale, Virginia. "I wanted to give the kids a way to practice their skills with a real artist."

The park program isn't the first to view graffiti through a new lens. Creating spray-paint murals is one of the methods suggested by the nonprofit Project for Public Spaces to prevent graffiti vandalism on public property.

Research suggests multi-colored mural projects can help discourage unwanted graffiti or "tagging," an elaborate signature left by the artist. Such projects help build a sense of ownership among participants and remove the blank canvases that would otherwise tempt graffitists.

McDowell first tapped visual artist Dan Roncesvalles earlier this year to bring some color to the skatepark, which sits just outside Washington, D.C.'s Beltway and is run by the Fairfax County Park Authority. Roncesvalles brought in another artist to help him scrawl psychedelic letters along both sides of a full moon, an expansive and fitting backdrop for the skatepark.

McDowell liked the work so much that he asked the park authority to allow Roncesvalles to teach students, ages 12 to 17, how to legally practice graffiti art through a five-week course. The program launched in late June with a handful of participants and will be continued quarterly.

Learning the Hard Way

Growing up in the 1990s in Washington, D.C., Roncesvalles taught himself the art of graffiti, often practicing on not-so-legal surfaces.

"If you're in it for a long time, you've already experienced that sort of thing," Roncesvalles says about getting in trouble - rather than recognized - for his art. "You become smarter. You want to paint stuff, but you want to find more legitimate avenues to express the art form."

Roncesvalles' portfolio now includes several city murals and gallery projects. …

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