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Don’t Spray on Me

Art Students and Other Taggers


There is an insidious problem in Isla Vista that is constant and unpleasant. One day most of the fences and signs in the area might be graffiti-free, and the next full of tagging. Recently, there was just such an outbreak. One day nothing. The next, a whole bunch of spray paint pollution.

While you may be imagining the graffiti as something artistic or interesting in some way, that’s not the case. The type of thing you can see in I.V. is just a bunch of squiggly lines in bright colors that may mean something to someone, but isn’t anything that can provoke emotions other than anger and disgust.

Cat Neushul
Click to enlarge photo

Cat Neushul

After the most recent spate of graffiti, during one of the potential Floatopia weekends, it took just a few days for all signs of the graffiti to be gone. There are still some green letters on a no-parking sign, but other than that, the area is mostly free and clear. This got me wondering who the graffiti-removing fairies were in the I.V. community. Turns out that the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District (IVRPD) provides much of the people-power and other resources to make this happen. The Adopt-A-Block Program spearheads efforts to remove graffiti, and it is a daunting task.

“It’s really frustrating,” said Renee Funston, Adopt-A-Block assistant for the IVRPD. “You cover it one day, and the next it is back.” While the problem may come in spurts, there are times when graffiti seems to be everywhere. “I feel there’s been a definite increase in the last few weeks,” Funston said.

And while you may be imagining graffiti on a fence or a wall, in I.V. it could be anywhere. Graffiti artists aren’t picky. A trash can, a picnic table, a pay phone, or even a telephone pole might be a spot just calling out for tagging.

Funston goes out daily to look for graffiti. “I just go around and check different streets,” she explained. When she finds graffiti, she or one of the volunteers who works with the Adopt-A-Block program goes out to cover it up with paint or use removal products. She said she has about two volunteers a week who help with this work. The volunteers are often people performing community service, or involved in the Liberty Program, which offers free tattoo-removal for people with gang-related symbols.

The supplies needed for the task can get expensive. Funston said the IVRPD uses about a gallon of paint every three months, and spends a of couple hundred dollars a month on graffiti-removal sprays. Volunteers may use a couple of bottles of the removal sprays each time they go out, at $7 a bottle.

You may be thinking that the graffiti is done by gang members or others marking their territory. While this may be true in some cases, Funston said the taggers often turn about to be UCSB students. In a recent case a tagger turned out to be an art student. He was caught by the Isla Vista Foot Patrol. “It took a long time to catch him,” said Vanessa Thomas, head of the IVRPD’s Adopt-A-Block program.

This student was cited by 21 businesses and homeowners for his actions, and is facing a hefty fine. He owes the IVRPD $16,000, and has to do 50 hours of community service, Thomas said. Another tagger picked up by the Isla Vista Foot Patrol recently is going to trial for using a stencil to graffiti.

What Funston, and people like myself, don’t quite understand is why people are doing this. “I don’t understand what the issue is,” she said. She said she would love to have someone explain the psychology behind the need to tag. Maybe they don’t know, or don’t care, about the time it takes to clean up their mess. “It is just so much more work. It is constant,” Funston said.

While the IVRPD might be one of the primary groups seeking to remove graffiti, there are individual residents who take up the challenge as well. You might see locals out with a can of paint and a brush on a Saturday or Sunday just because they want to keep their neighborhood graffiti-free.

While this problem is insidious, it’s not something that many students may have thought about. It’s not like every student gets out a spray can and decides to tag the sidewalk. The people who are doing the tagging are a small group who are not thinking about the consequences. While the taggers are sometimes caught, it might be a good idea to get more people involved in the fight. Maybe if students were educated about the effects of tagging, and told that it could be a fellow student, they might be interested in discouraging or reporting it in their area. It may not seem like the biggest problem I.V. faces, but graffiti is an ugly and unnecessary evil.

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