Dupont Circle graffiti triggers debate about property, arts and vandalism

A series of pro-Islamic State graffiti throughout north Dupont Circle has stirred a debate over street painting in the neighborhood.

In its monthly meeting, the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) asked for a graffiti-free neighborhood. The association members considered graffiti vandalism, a visual blight that reduces the aesthetic appearance of the area and increases criminal activity.

Pro-ISIS graffiti posted on an electrical box on the cross section of N street and Connecticut Ave. NW, Dupont Circle, in Washington, DC. Photo by @jenn_ruth

Pro-ISIS graffiti posted on an electrical box on the cross section of N street and Connecticut Ave. NW, Dupont Circle, in Washington, DC. Photo by @jenn_ruth

“Graffiti, unless stopped, encourages crime and more graffiti,” Phil Carney, a DCCA member who has Meritorious Service to Law Enforcement for graffiti fighting, said. “Graffiti is a symbol of decay.”

DCCA members would like to educate residents about graffiti, remove it promptly and ensure anti-graffiti laws are enforced by the Department of Public Works. Dupont Circle residents noticed that the same “vandals” keep returning to the neighborhood. After being washed away last September, the same ISIS graffiti reappeared in exact location few days later; spray painted on the sidewalk of N Street and Connecticut Ave, NW. That graffiti included the words “Allah u Akbar,” an Islamic phrase literally meaning God is great in Arabic.

“A week ago, we removed seven murals on 17th Street, but three reappeared within a day - they usually keep doing it till they give up and go somewhere else,” Carney said. “For them it is a game, for citizens it is a bother.”

The association was not able to find the real reason behind the rise of graffiti in the neighborhood. At a Dupont Circle pro-graffiti rally few months ago, Carney talked with some protestors who claimed to be graffiti artists from Maryland and Virginia.

“They don't vandalize there, but [they] come to the district to express their right to free speech and artistic expression,” Carney said. 

While members of DCCA asked for prompt removal, other neighbors think that graffiti is an art that reflects the needs of society.

Graffiti next to Agora, a Turkish restaurant, on 17th Street. Photo by Philandscoop – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Graffiti next to Agora, a Turkish restaurant, on 17th Street. Photo by Philandscoop – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“Not every graffiti is bad,” said Tommy Martin, who recently moved to the district. “On some walls or old buildings, graffiti expresses contemporary trends and social issues, so we should encourage those artists instead of going after them as criminals,” Martin said.

According to the National Association of Realtors, property located within a community where there is graffiti will lose 15 to 20 percent of its value. If the graffiti represents hateful messages, owners always fear to lose up to 25 percent of the property value. But this depends on the neighborhood and the graffiti itself.

“That’s kind of subjective,” Jared Lauer, a realtor working for Sotheby’s in DC, said.  “It is like saying tattoos are trashy, well not as much true anymore.”

This debate about graffiti comes as the city marks the ninth year of MuralsDC, one of the Department of Public Works programs created by Council member Jim Graham. The program’s purpose is to replace illegal graffiti, and to teach youth the art of street painting.

“We want to reduce the amount of illegal graffiti by recruiting taggers and young adults to paint murals in popular tagging spots,” Nancee Lyons, the spokeswoman of the Department of Public Works, said. 

Lyons said that any graffiti is considered illegal if it is not authorized by the owner of the property. Therefore, the DC Commission on the Arts and the Humanities at DPW reaches out to artists by issuing a call for artists to apply to the program at the beginning of each year.

The graffiti debate will not be over, but it helped creating a program that now pays some graffiti artists to lead workshops for younger artists. In a way, graffiti revealed some talent in the district.

cartoon credit: cliparts.co

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Joe Khawly

With 10 years in the broadcasting business, Joe began as a reporter in local Lebanese TV stations New TV and LBCI, when he sharpened his skills as an intern at CNN, Atlanta. He later became a senior reporter at MTV Lebanon, where he covered major national events. Meanwhile, he was tutoring at the Antonine University. In 2012, Joe moved to Dubai to pursue his dream as an international correspondent for Sky News Arabia, covering the turmoil in the Middle East from Libya, Egypt, Turkey and Syria. He ended up as the Washington Correspondent for Sky, before working with Associated Press. Currently, Joe is a graduate student at Georgetown University and works at AlHurra.