The Park Record editorial, February 17-19, 2010 | ParkRecord.com

The Park Record editorial, February 17-19, 2010

Let's not send mixed message about graffiti

There has been an outbreak of graffiti in Park City this week and we are wondering if it is related to the recent attention paid to the rogue artwork that appeared around town during the Sundance Film Festival. The pieces that appeared on several walls around Park City were attributed to the famous graffiti artist known as Banksy.

The Banksy pieces were, or in some cases still are, intricate compositions that would easily qualify as art if they were on a canvas or in a magazine. And they got a lot of positive attention.

But the fact remains that they were not posters or postcards, they were spray-painted designs applied to public and private properties without permission. Also, they were part of an obvious ploy to advertise a film about the artist that premiered at the festival.

Still, the clever designs made headlines, in this newspaper and others, and they sparked an enthusiastic fan club.

They also inspired a lively debate about the sometimes blurry line between art and vandalism. Since the designs in question were appealing and did not contain typical graffiti-style obscenities or gang symbols, and due in part to their supposedly famous creator, that line was especially out of focus.

But let’s be clear. Graffiti is art when it is invited, and it is vandalism when it is not. If Banksy had revealed himself at his premiere, city officials would have been obligated to treat him like any red-handed vandal.

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Interestingly, organizers of the Sundance Festival have their own strict regulations about guerilla advertising and they were conspicuously silent in this instance. But if the graffiti promoted a competing festival, they probably would have been less tolerant.

Which cuts to the heart of the question graffiti may be permissible if the owner of the property on which it appears likes it. At that point it becomes "public art," a concept that Park City government and its citizens openly support.

We like Banksy’s cameraman on Main Street, but we would have liked it more if he had asked permission to put it there.

If there are any irrepressible street artists out there, we’d advise them to contact City Hall and apply to create a piece of commissioned artwork. If they aren’t willing to get a landowner’s permission before decorating their property, they should be prepared to go to court.