This original blog post of graffiti removal and catching graffiti vandals with video cameras was written in 2011… 9 years ago. Now, with hind-sight being 20/20, I’ve added a few UPDATE comments at the end of this blog post.
This mural, along with 10 others by some of the most prominent art masters, were given to the people of the City of Los Angeles as part of the 1984 Olympic celebration to promote civic pride; one of the goals of all public art. Frank Romero, the artist of one of the most famous of these murals gives a dose of reality:
“All of the murals on that stretch of the 101 went for 13 years without being hit by the taggers,” he said. “After that, a few timid marks appeared. Then, suddenly this year (1998), they went wild. Tags appeared everywhere. It felt like part of me was dying.”
So now, murals, once a sanctuary honored by tagging vandals, are fair game. And it doesn’t take too long before the artwork, once clean, is completely obliterated again. But wouldn’t you think that technology could lend a hand in protecting… or at least catching vandals defacing public property?
The restoration – conservation of the Jim Morphesis Monument, a 1984 Olympic Freeway mural by Kent Twitchell, was the first of this series of murals to be the beginning of a renewed effort to save the murals and bring the public art back into view. Click here for more info: Save Free Murals. But four days after the mural was returned to its original glory, graffiti vandals unmercifully plastered the entire lower half with spray paint. See https://www.fineartconservationlab.com/murals/morphesis-mural-that-we-just-finished-tagged-big-time/. This, of course, infuriated MCLA, the sponsoring organization that organized the restoration work (www.muralconservancy.org), Caltrans, who has been an enthusiastic partner in re-revealing the artwork-murals along the freeways but also the law enforcement agencies were/are really “agitated.”
24 hours after we were notified that the mural was hit, we were back on the site to start the graffiti removal. That day, we had several interviews, right there on the freeway, with law enforcement and Caltrans. There seems to be more to graffiti than just making a public wall look bad: gang activity (drugs and guns) is related to it and the pride of the city is at stake in letting the anarchist mentality have expression by destruction of predominant public locations. It might surprise you that this is an felony offense.
Yesterday, Caltrans Vandalism Abatement co-ordinator Vincent Moreno brought me up to date on progress: The law enforcement agencies are very interested in catching these “bad guys” and have identified the people who are behind the monikers, initials or symbols that were painted. So, the law enforcement process is underway to track these guys down. Three agencies have committed to following through both in identifying the vandals and in surveillance of the mural: the CHP, The Sheriff’s Dept. and the LAPD. Caltrans, of course, wants to keep the freeways clean of graffiti but Vincent is also intent on getting the convicted vandals to pay for the graffiti clean up. “I want to get restitution from these guys and get the money back to MCLA for the mural maintenance program.”
One of the tools for catching the bad guys that is being installed this week is video surveillance on the Jim Morphesis Monument. This is an idea that seems to be on the minds of many who are following this blog as we have been working on the art conservation and restoration. But its not as easy as just buying any ol’ video surveillance camera. In fact, when Vincent told me about the video cameras I challenged him on the usefulness becaause so often you see a bank video or a market video and with all the good lighting, you still can’t see a face clear enough to ID someone… and this mural is located in a low light or no light situation, especially at night. Vincent said he has evaluated many different qualities and evaluated their performance. These are special cameras with infrared that have proven themselves. They are particularly good at picking up faces, license plates etc. Vincent will make daily visits to check up on the equipment to ensure its proper performance too. The video system will also have the capacity to immediately communicate to law enforcement to notify that taggers are present. The hope is for immediate response.
Graffiti removal was completed yesterday. I suspect that there will be other taggings. The will and the way are in place and we’ll be there to keep the graffiti off. But,. taggers beware, there is going to be an official response and hell to pay. Its a pleasure to work with an organization like MCLA and Caltrans who have the tenacity and resolve.
Here are a few bullet points you may find interesting:
- Lots of things changed right from the beginning (after I posted the 2011 article). The artist run organization at MCLA wanted to maintain their own murals along the 101 freeway so my research and methodologies were handed over for a much lower quality clean up effort, and a less efficiently run response program when the murals got tagged. So, politics change… BUT… Caltrans, which has a required response time for tagging, it appears, has loosened their requirements for cleaning off tags knowing that there is ongoing community support. In other words, if Caltrans didn’t see the community interest and efforts, perhaps, they would just paint out the graffiti and the murals (again).
- This mural and the others (except Frank Romero’s cars… which I love and the kids playing) along the 101 freeway have been tagged many times over the years and the video surveillance I discussed with Vincent Moreno has never produced any actionable info. The video surveillance has also not dissuaded or discouraged any tagging that we can tell.
- The GodFather and Guardian Angel, Vincent Moreno passed away sadly. RIP and blessings to his family.
Restoration questions? Call Scott Haskins at 213 620 9125
See testimonials of FACL services: https://www.fineartconservationlab.com/testimonials
Questions for the artist? Kent Twitchell 310 709 2037
“Like” us or be our “Friend” on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-Freeway-Murals-Los-Angeles/306554516039121
video surveillance, protecting public art, kent twitchell, jim morphesis, caltrans, 1984 olympic freeway murals, scott haskins, FACL, mural conservation, art restoration, mural restoration, graffiti removal from murals, public art