Update: LA Weekly speaks with the recipient of the package, who is positively tickled. Interview at the bottom.
Uh-oh — the fight between muralists and the L.A political machine just went mainstream!
Los Angeles' biggest and best-known street artist, Echo Park resident Shepard Fairey, has sticker-bombed the Department of City Planning in apparent solidarity with SABER, who protested the recent crackdown on graffiti by skywriting over City Hall on Monday. Among the skywritten messages was a sign that Fairey might be on board:
The manilla envelope full of stickers was addressed to a certain Tanner Blackman, who works for a subsection of the department called Code Studies. Blackman is part of a team that has been drafting an L.A. mural ordinance that aims to distinguish between ads, tags/vandalism and pre-approved street art.
It's a thin line — one that L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has been brazenly stomping all over, one street artist at a time. He's been doling out grueling sentences for the outdoor painters of our Entertainment Capital and classifying murals as “billboards” so he can have them swiftly painted over, often at the taxpayers' expense. (A “Which Way, L.A.?” radio show yesterday addressed this City Hall attack on a treasured L.A. tradition.) And things aren't much better in next-door Santa Monica.
Fairey doesn't really have that problem — he's up to his neck in official commissions, like a feel-good elephant on the side of the West Hollywood library — but his package for City Planning puts in a good word for his less fortunate contemporaries. (Though it's somewhat ironically filled with the kind of street-art souvenirs that have given him a somewhat corporate reputation as of late.)
We've contacted Blackman to see if the sticker bomb might have any liberal sway in the drafting of the much-anticipated city ordinance. Stay tuned.
Update: Blackman calls back to confirm he's at the head of a five-person team crafting a new mural ordinance for L.A., set to be approved by the Planning Commission in late October.
He says the main roadblock to approving new murals across this once-colorful city has been a tangle of lawsuits between billboard companies/advertisers and the City Attorney's Office.
Basically, in 2002, to prevent advertisers from plastering their propaganda anyplace they pleased, Blackman says the city “created a mural prohibition” in which “the answer was to be equally unfair to everyone.” Because both street art and street ads are constitutionally protected types of free speech, they were forced under the same moratorium.
Still, for the next six years, Cultural Affairs commissioners kept approving non-ad artworks, somewhat outside the law. When advertisers called them on this First Amendment skirting in 2007, Blackman says the “prohibition” we're still fighting today really took affect. (Since then, things have gotten so bad that “sometimes we're even buffing over murals created with city money in past times.” Christ.)
And the city's initial solution — allowing entities to apply for “sign districts” — backfired to all hell, as the only applicants were mega-developers looking to plaster their districts in supergraphics.
Which brings us to today. “We're now able to see a light at the end of the tunnel,
The new ordinance will take a few pages from a similar effort in Portland, where city officials have divorced the street-ad application from the street-art application, so that they're no longer forced to (unconstitutionally) distinguish between the two.
To avoid content regulation, which would also be illegal, Portland has essentially come up with a set of “time-place-manner” restrictions, says Blackman. He gives a couple examples: There's a five-year minimum lifespan for murals, which “acts as a disincentive to change out [corporate] messages,” and building owners can't receive payments for the art.
(Keep in mind that none of this has to do with rogue street art. “Im not writing a graffiti ordinance,” Blackman explains. “Nothing about what we do would change laws about vandalism.” Here's an August presentation he gave on that distinction.)
But back to Fairey: He got Blackman's name and address from a business card the city planner handed him at a MOCA street-art event.
“Weeks later,” says Blackman, “I get a mystery package.”
He says he doesn't think the gesture is connected to SABER's thing. Instead, he sees it as “guerilla inside City Hall marketing” (in more ways than one, seeing as he's been passing the stickers around City Hall all day) and, more boldly, “solidarity with my efforts.”
Blackman is giddy when talking about his gift. “Theres a sort of fanboyness there,” he says of Fairey. Aw. We'll see if all this love-bombing continues upon release of the new art rules, come autumntime.