Updated: Mar 2, 2020
Graffiti is a major issue in municipalities all over the world. In the U.S. alone Americans pay over $12 billion dollars each year in fighting the never-ending battle of graffiti abatement. Is there an answer to preventing graffiti from happening, or at least lessening the occurrence? Possibly.
Some municipalities have taken the approach of establishing mural programs. The idea is that by resurrecting a mural it will not only beautify the city and create a sense of culture, but it will also deter taggers from vandalizing the nice pretty picture. But does it work and what are the costs associated with it? Do taggers have a sense of respect for these artistic murals? Is there a “code” amongst taggers to not tag over these art pieces? The answer is yes and no. Over the years, as a graffiti removal specialist, I’ve come across many murals that have been ‘disrespected’ by graffiti vandals. Don’t get me wrong, murals do work with a certain kind of tagger.
There are three types of taggers. There’s the individual who takes his time resurrecting what are called ‘pieces’. These are usually large tags with intricate detail, multiple colours, and are usually found in difficult to reach areas. They consider themselves ‘Kings’. They will also have a signature tag but it is usually placed in a planned spot.
The second kind of tagger is one with a simple signature, usually using only one colour, and seems to just tag everything in the direction he/she is walking. They are often considered ‘Toys’ within the graffiti community. There’s no real planning or effort involved. They are solely trying to put up as many tags as possible to increase their notoriety.
The third kind of tagger isn’t really a tagger at all. These are individuals who have a sharpie, crayon, lipstick or anything else they happen to have in their pockets and they just doodle. They’ll often draw pictures, write messages, confess their love, or make threats. We call these the ‘Doodlers’.
Of these three types of taggers only one of them seems to avoid murals. The ‘Kings’. They seem to go by the “code”. I have yet to see a mural defaced by one of these individuals. As for the other two types of taggers, there is no “code”. They won’t hesitate to tag a mural, and in fact the ‘Doodlers’ often will seek out murals to create amusing additions to the artwork. Mustaches, aliens, hats, are some of the more innocent additions, however we do see a lot of racist, foul language, or disturbing images as well. If the mural is in the path of a “Toy” they don’t seem to have any hesitation. Murals do get hit and they get hit more often than you think. So the “code” exists, but is only followed by few.
Talking to many municipalities, their solution for this is to protect the murals by coating them with an anti-graffiti coating. Sounds great, but in reality it doesn’t always work. The thought is that once the mural is up they will either hire a company to apply this coating or apply it themselves and if the mural gets tagged with graffiti they will just wipe it off. It’s not that simple. Companies will try to sell the benefits of the anti-graffiti coating and boast how great it is at repelling graffiti. What they don’t tell you is that you will still have to use some sort of graffiti removal product to remove the graffiti. The graffiti won’t just wipe off. The other issue with coating is that it is most likely some sort of urethane. This type of coating breaks down over a few years and can begin to peel and bubble. This can make the wall look very unsightly. If you ever want to paint over the mural for whatever reason in the future, the coating will have to be removed which can be a very expensive process. Often when graffiti removal is done on the coated mural it will remove the graffiti but will also remove the coating resulting in an unprotected area on the mural and re-coating of that area will be necessary.
It’s my professional opinion that murals do not prevent graffiti. Most taggers don’t follow the “code” and won’t hesitate to vandalize. If you do decide to commission an artist to do a mural, you should have a plan ready for when it gets vandalized. We recommend having the artist readily available to make touch-ups. Murals are not the solution to decreasing the frequency of graffiti and can often make graffiti more difficult to deal with. Instead of doing a simple paint-over or removal you now have to restore the mural. The only real solution for graffiti abatement is cleaning as quickly as possible. Graffiti will continue to occur; however, if you are diligent at removing it the taggers will eventually stop wasting their time on your property and move on.
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