After Decades of Cracking Down, the Dallas Police Want to Accomodate Graffiti Artists
Herschel Weisfeld's CorinthPark could be a model for DPD's new approach to graffiti art.
At the corner of Corinth Street and Park Avenue, in a neighborhood of rundown homes and produce houses a stone's throw from Heritage Village, is the old bakery Herschel Weisfeld bought 15 years ago to convert into a live-work space for artists. The apartment units are in the back and right now house a handful of artists and Weisfeld, a real estate guy who boasts a 700-piece art collection.
Peering through the fence surrounding the otherwise shabby concrete loading area, you can see evidence of the space's other function. There's a 10-foot-tall peacock strutting with fishnets and stiletto heels, a person-sized styrofoam cup with pink liquid sloshing over the brim, a sickening green $5 bill, Honest Abe transformed into wild-eyed blue ogre. Nearly every inch of brick is covered in graffiti. Inside the warehouse, the coating of paint is, if anything, even more thorough.
Weisfeld can't pinpoint exactly when CorinthPark evolved into a haven for graffiti artists. It just kind of happened. He'd get a call from one kid asking if his group could spray, then another, and word soon spread through the graffiti community. Its a safe place, Weisfeld says, where kids can express themselves without fear of arrest. The only rules are that they have to respect one another's work and can't paint on the building's exterior walls. That's when the cops or city code inspectors are liable to stop by.
Oddly enough, though, the Dallas Police Department may soon try to replicate what's happened at CorinthPark at other areas in the city. For years, the department's approach to graffiti has been simple: find someone doing it, take them to jail. If the property damage was high enough, they'd be charged with a felony.
That approach isn't going away, but yesterday I was cold-called by a patrol sergeant, Elliott Forge, who told me that DPD has come to the realization that a lot of graffiti comes not from people who want to advertise their gang affiliation or do something illegal but who simply want to express themselves, to make art. Back around November, DPD leadership began mulling some sort of graffiti art program, and Forge, a soft-spoken SMU fine arts major-turned cop, was drafted to help develop it.
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The general idea is to keep graffiti off random buildings and property by giving artists a safe outlet for their creativity. Long-term, there are hopes of doing things like partnering with the Dallas County Community College District to actually teach graffiti art and a citywide network of places that are safe for graffiti, but the first step is more modest: the establishment of three "free walls" where artists can come 24/7 to paint without fear of DPD reprisal. The only conditions, Forge says, are that they keep the wall free of gang tags and obscenity and agree not to graffiti other people's property. The department is still figuring out exactly where they will be -- CorinthPark is one likely spot -- but things are poised to move forward.
Of course, part of the lure of graffiti art is its guerilla nature, that the act of civil disobedience was part of the artwork. No doubt a segment of the graffiti community feels that way. But a lot of them just want to paint cool stuff. CorinthPark is proof of that. So is the stuff painted during the recent Trinity Wind Festival, which served as a sort of pilot of cooperation between the city and graffiti artists. And that waddling penguin with the bobby hat you see down by the river? Sgt. Forge did that.
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