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Intersections: Street art pits creativity against vandalism

June 18, 2012
(Liana Aghajanian )

A few weeks ago, I spotted something I had never seen before in Glendale: public street art. A neat, black, spray-painted phrase stared back at me from the cement, encompassed in two delicate motifs that surrounded it: “Keep Your Head Up.”

I couldn't look away, engulfed in the unfounded fear that the ground would have surely absorbed this rare creative expression if I did. So I quickly took a photo and shared it with the world, uploading it with the caption, “a rare, but welcome sighting: public street art in the Glendale area.”

The response was positive. Perhaps I wasn't in alone in my yearning for some public form of expression in a city with virtually none.

Life went on and I soon forgot about the phrase on the cement that made me smile, on a day which I appreciated being told to keep my head up just by looking down. But this weekend, something happened. I went to Echo Park, and its bold, vivid murals depicting religious figures, children's fairy tales and tongue-in-cheek phrases darting out from the sidewalks brought all my feelings back again.

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The creativity I stumbled upon made me feel alive. It energized me. It gave me a sense of what this city and community is all about, even if I didn't live there. The public expression fed my own need to create, too, and I thought about how important that could be to young people who need self-expression the most and, as often is the case, get it the least.

I started to wonder what impressions people passing through Glendale had of the city. Between the Brand Boulevard of Cars, the Americana at Brand and Armenian-owned businesses that gave clues to demographics, not much was left to get a real sense of the city's personality. And judging by the section of the city's website devoted to “Artwork in Public Spaces,” where murals commissioned by and located in the Lexus dealership and several watercolor paintings on the walls of City Hall are highlighted, I'd wager to say that Glendale needs a public artwork revamp and revaluation.

And don't get me started on those Marketplace frogs again.

Since the prominent emergence of modern street art, the lines between it and graffiti have been blurred, especially when it comes to its legality. Who determines if street art is graffiti? Or if graffiti is street art? How do you separate artistic expression from vandalism?

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