Brimming with Music, energy and art


root - Posted on 28 October 2002

Precita Eyes Urban Youth Arts Festival: A day at the Graffiti Park

by Christina Heatherton/PoorNewsNetwork Media intern

The flurry of bright colors and distant hip hop beats rising from the Precita Eyes Urban Youth Arts Festival hit me long before my crutches sank into the thick Precita Park grass. Last Saturday, the tiny pill-shaped park at the end of Mission Street was brimming with music, energy, and the murmurings of people lounging in the summer sun. The sixth annual event was a celebration and exhibition of positive, creative expression, namely graffiti art. People of all ages and skill levels were invited to express themselves with spray paint on the large white panels erected around the perimeter of the park. Rock bands, hip-hop djs, and spoken word poets also take turns doing their thing on the center stage throughout the day.

As I shuffled around the grass seeking interviews, with my camera thumping against my chest and clanging against my metal crutches, I became completely engrossed in the artwork being created around me. One of the event organizers, Suaro, later explained that a major part of the event is the very performance of the graffiti art. I had never seen graffiti created before. For me, the writing and art that mysteriously appear on freeway walls, billboards, doors, tables never had a creator. On this day, the ghost artists materialized out of hissings sprays summoned by the musical metal tinklings of their shaken cans. The artists ranged in age, race, class and ability but were all fiercely intent on their panels. Some braced themselves against the canvases with tension in their arms and issuing out their paint in dense spurts. Others moved with the fluidity of dancers, coercing elegant airy lines of paint with sweeping rhythmic movement of their arms and bodies.

With my notebook alternately in my teeth or shoved under my arm I first spoke to Deenone from TMF crew who has been a Bay Area graffiti artist since early 80s. He proudly explains that his section was reserved for the older writers. We exchange questions and answers in loud screams competing with the brassy roar of the rock band, PPAVARTTAANNA. Deenone describes the changes of old and new school. It’s easier for the new writers "to get better quicker" he explains because they have access to graffiti videos, magazines, and classes, such as the Urban Arts Class taught by Precita Eyes.

I soon found that other artists weren’t as encouraging. Spelio spoke to me while spraying a deep forest green background. He was more critical about graffiti’s transition from street art to more commercial and gallery art. He likens it to the mainstreaming of hip-hop. I ask him whether the transition has neutered the political potential of graffiti especially for people who feel they have no other means of expression. He answers, "No" and explains that despite graffiti’s increasing popularity in mainstream culture, "political graffiti done illegally means that people have no choice but to look at it." I ask him about the diversity of classes and races that the festival has attracted and he responds saying that he appreciates the "open minds" of the diverse crowd.
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On the opposite side of the wall from Spelio, I speak with two weary young brothers. They reluctantly answer my questions while taking turns trying to control awkward blasts of red paint. Their father stands proudly over them with encouraging comments. He explains to me that graffiti art is a great means of expression "as long as it’s not damaging property" and as long as it’s in "areas set up for it". He tells me more about the "suffering of the public" that occurs when graffiti is done illegally and I begin to wish that he and Spelio could have a heart to heart.

I excuse myself from the conversation to catch up with Antonio and Gabriel, the two members of the band, PPAVARTTAANNA. Antonio, the drummer describes how graffiti is a "disregard of society’s perception of private property" that attracts people from all walks of life. While the two are also visual artists, they explain that they enjoy providing "a challenge to the audience" with their music. Their unique sound is called math rock which uses irregular time signatures to produce nonlinear songs with little repetition that ultimately prevents anyone from bopping their head to the music.

For much of the festival I milled about taking in the scene. During a particularly angry spoken word poem, I watched as a mother arranged her little girl’s hair and hissed to her daughter, "You better plug your ears". I slowly made my way to the various tables that had been set up at the festival. The organizers invited a variety of groups that would aid and interest festival goers and artists. Among them were the Do It Herself Collective which "offers workshops, events and projects that challenge genderized learning and empower our communities." The Culture Cache was also present. It provides hip-hop gallery space for graffiti artists to display their non-graffiti artwork. Additionally, many local markets provided free food and drink for festival goers.

There was one unwelcome guest at the event. Starbucks, who had not invested any money in the event and had turned down Precita Eyes’ applications for grants, had the gall to come and advertise. They slipped in as though they had been invited and took advantage of the large crowd to pass out samples of their new over-caffeinated drink. My 11 year old cousin was given one and he promptly spit it up in the street.

I only had time to hobble to one table which honors fallen artists. I spoke to Lil’ John of the Dream Fund. His brother, Mike Dream was one of the Bay Area’s premier stylistic innovators of graffiti art and also a hero of using the medium to fight injustice. Dream was gunned down in Oakland two years ago leaving behind an infant son. The Fund sells books, T-shirts, and stickers of Dream’s artwork to raise money for Dream’s son. Dream’s pieces are incredible. I recommend that anyone who doesn’t know his art or his name get themselves informed.

The folks at Precita Eyes put on an incredible festival. I left the event with my ears ringing and my arms exhausted completely inspired and excited.

For information about:

Precita Eyes and their Urban Arts Classes visit: www.precitaeyes.org

The Mike Dream Fund: www.dreamtdk.com

The Do-It-Herself Collective: www.do-it-herself.org

The Culture Cache: www.culturecache.com

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