Cuenca’s new graffiti ordinance puts the emphasis on creating outlets for young artists, not on punishment

May 11, 2013

More art, less graffiti.

That’s the goal of Cuenca’s new graffiti ordinance, passed by the cantonal council last year, and both graffiti artists and and government officials agree that the new program is off to a good start.

Martin Arevalo, a spokesman for a loose coalition of 18 groups of graffiti artists who have turned their talents to painting murals, says the goal is to have an outlet for artistic espression. “Our main objective is to be artists and to have places to create our work. We don’t want to be considered criminals and we don’t want to damage property. Some of us would like to have careers in art.”

The graffiti groups, most of them with 10 to 15 members, have names like Chamusk2, Ganjah, Banco Crew, Alaja Vandal, Anglo Saxons, Brothers, Zombie, Red GLBT Azuay, Zooudas, Sao, Mata, MS, A Deadly Dub Squad, ESVO, Style Flowing through the veins, Kuytun, Komuna, Art 3 and MSK. According to Arevalo, “Our names are part of our art.”

The ages of the artists, on average, range from 13 to 18, although there are a few older members, says Arevalo.

So far, the graffiti-artsits-turned-muralists have completed projects in several locations in the city, the largest on the Eastern edge of the historic district on Av. Huayna Capac and along Pasaje Tres de Noviebre, on the Tomebamba River. The group was also invited to paint the plywood wall that surrounded Parque de la Madre during its reconstruction.

New graffiti law

Despite objections from some council members, the new graffiti ordinance puts an emphasis on providing an outlet for young artists rather than punishing them. “The ordinance makes it clear that it is illigal to deface public and prívate property, but the more important thing was to create a program where artists could work together, create art that the public could see and appreciate,” says Cuenca painter Luis Quinde. “The idea was for those who create graffiti to join us in eliminating a problem and, at the same time, creating something that benefits everyone. A punitive approach would not work.”

In exchange for providing areas where the young artists can legally paint, the ordinance also asks them to help paint over existing illegal graffiti. The city pays for the paint for both the legal work as well as for paint-overs.

Geovanny Mayorga, of the Chamusk2 group, said he appreciates the intent of the new rules. “There is a quid pro quo that is good for everybody. The city is happy that there will be less vandalism and we are happy to have places to do our work and to have fun. We also get credit for what we do.”

Last week, graffiti artists met with Diego Carrasco, chiar of Cuenca's Department of Culture, to discuss new projects and to talk about cleaning up existing graffiti. The groups signed an agreement, pledging to help in the clean-up and efforts to discourage other artists from commiting acts of vancdalism, in exchange for government's pledge to provide places to paint.

Carrasco is helping enlist the support of established artists to work with the young artists on public murals. One of Cuenca’s most celebrated artists, ceramicist Edgar Segovia, has signed on and has assisted in the painting of two murals. “There is some great talent among the artists. They are eager to learn and they have a message to share.”

Photo caption: A group of young artists pose under their murals on Av. Huayna Capac.

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