GRAFFITI: A CRY FOR HELP

Film maker: "We need to listen to youth"
By Leo Babauta
Pacific Daily News
Saturday, August 1, 1998

     Building owners on Guam would argue that nicknames, gang tags and profanity scrawled upon their clean walls is not art-it's unforgivable crime.

     But L.A. Film maker Bob Bryan says the countless young graffiti artists he's interviewed use spray paint cans to express anger, angst, despair and alienation they feel in an adult world that isn't listening.

     "These artists are screaming, wailing loudly," Bryan said in a speech at the Guam Visitor's Bureau quarterly membership meeting yesterday. "Can't you hear them? What would you do if your young child was screaming at the top of their lungs in the next room? Would you ignore them?"

     The legislative solutions on Guam dealing with graffiti-only a handful in recent years-have taken a tough stance aimed at jailing graffiti artists and punishing them with heavy fines.

     That approach only turns children into criminals, Bryan said at the meeting at the Hyatt hotel. According to Bryan: Graffiti Artists need to be listened to. They need an outlet for their creative energy. They need to be involved in coming up with community solutions to graffiti vandalism.

     He suggested a broad program that includes giving graffiti artists designated walls on which to paint, providing graffiti contests and scholarships and giving kids other activities in which to channel their energy.

     Bryan inspired Sabina Tamondong, director of the ABC Children's Center, who called his speech beautiful.

     "When I came here, I had this feeling of being mad (at graffiti artists)," Tamondong said. "It is an eye-opener to me. I'm going back with a very good understanding of what graffiti is now."

     Bryan's proposal seems to have won over government officials, to some extent. The bureau, which paid for Bryan to come to Guam, will start working on positive graffiti programs, GVB Acting General Manager Theresa Cruz-Paulino said yesterday.

     Island residents have complained that graffiti on Guam is an eyesore and harmful to tourism, Cruz-Paulino said. Providing walls for budding artists should give them the creative outlet they need, she said.

     She said graffiti art contests and other suggestions by Bryan are also possibilities.

     Sen. Alberto "Tony" Lamorena, R-Dededo, has been the only lawmaker in the last few years to propose solutions to graffiti, and all of them have been tough on graffiti artists.

     Lamorena, chairman of the Legislature's tourism committee, said he'll work with GVB on positive graffiti outlets. He also suggested bringing Los Angeles graffiti artists to Guam for workshops that would teach teens the techniques and positive side of the art.

     But he's wary of extensive programs proposed by Bryan because Guam's graffiti is not as developed as L.A.'s. Graffiti on Island has so far been confined to "tagging" and hasn't evolved into the spray paint art shown in Bryan's films.

     Lamorena's latest graffiti legislation, Bill 575, proposes rewards for callers who give tips about graffiti vandals. The Guam Crime Stoppers board of directors met recently with Lamorena because his bill might conflict with their anonymous crime tip's program.

     Bryan said such attempts to attack graffiti artists, or "criminalize" them, is the wrong approach.

     "Let's not turn this into Nazi Germany," Bryan said. "The children are not the enemy. Let's not get the children to go after the children. The graffiti art movement has not responded positively to these tactics."

     Lamorena maintains that only some taggers have artistic ambitions.

     "The rest of them are just to me members of gangs who are trying to identify themselves and to mark their territory," Lamorena said.

     One business owner has dealt with both graffiti vandals and artists. Elizabeth Kim, owner of Plaza Market in Tamuning, has had the front of her store sprayed with graffiti tags. A year ago, she decided to give a chance to students who wanted to do a painting for her.

     "Every day they came and said, 'Please, buy our painting," Kim said. So she paid them to paint her store's name on a large container outside. While the spray-painted mural isn't her style, it does look better than the scribbles on her pink-coated building.

     Still, Kim has had to repaint her store twice and she's not happy about it.

     Painting over graffiti will continue, but Bryan said residents should try to look closer at the writing on the wall and see what teenagers are trying to say.

     "The truth is that you're gonna end up spending the money anyway," he said, "so why not attempt to improve relations between you instead of just painting over them."

 SOLUTIONS

 Film maker Bob Bryan suggested a list of positive graffiti solutions yesterday, including: