Graffiti in town, art or vandalism
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
In San Miguel, there are an estimated 150 graffitists, who, not satisfied with tagging the walls around El Centro, have penetrated to the Jardín Principal and even to the atrium of the parish of St. Michael the Archangel. However, the San Miguel Siempre Hermoso (San Miguel Always Beautiful) organization has been there in order to combat these “acts of vandalism.”
Javier Cerritos, coordinator of the Department of International Affairs of the local government, who coordinates the anti-graffiti program, said that in 2011, more than 10,000 tags were removed, 11,154 in 2012 and, until October this year, 9,884.
San Miguel Siempre Hermoso
It is a community organization that teams-up with the local administration with the goal of preserving a city free of graffiti. According to Cerritos, the organization started working on its own in 2001. It involved people concerned for the beauty of the city, who with their own resources work to combat the tags in the Centro.
Filip Lein, current president of the organization, said that he arrived in San Miguel de Allende eight years ago, and he was surprised to find a city free of this kind of vandalism. He started to get involved in the community life and he found out that there was an organization fighting against that problem. According to Lein, it was during the administration of Luis Alberto Villarreal (2003-2006) when the foreigners heading the program had a meeting with the then-head of the Economic Development and International Affairs Department, Christopher Finkelstein, in order to team-up and preserve the city, including the fountains. In that meeting, they agreed to work together, so the administration made the commitment of providing 50 percent of the budget for the program, while the other half would be provided by the organization. Nowadays, San Miguel Siempre Hermoso works with a budget of US$40,000; this money covers the salaries of two painters, paintbrushes, paints, as well as the fuel for a vehicle, donated by the state government. Although, originally San Miguel Siempre Hermoso was working for the preservation of the fountains, Lein remarked that a month ago, Mayor Trejo—who has strongly supported the program—ask them to take care only of the anti-graffiti program.
“The taggers work during the night, so we work during the day” commented Lein, who also made it clear that they erase all kind of tags made with spray, chalks or crayons, always, he remarked, asking permission to the owners of the property. “They may say that they like the tag in their walls” he said. The president of the organization highlighted that there is a book entitled “The Broken Windows Theory” which states that if in the neighborhoods there is vandalism such as graffiti or broken windows, the criminals could assume that it is alright to do it and that would lead them to commit more severe crimes, such as muggings or major crimes; for that reason, through this program, they are sending the criminal a message, saying that what they are doing is not correct, that the streets belong to the citizens and not just of the criminals, who want to mark their territory. “San Miguel Siempre Hermoso is our contribution to improve the security of the city, it is small but it counts” concluded Lein.
Cerritos highlighted that next year, the employees in charge of fighting the problem will be equipped with more professional tools as well as with a new vehicle, which could allow them to remove more graffiti not just in the Centro and nearby neighborhoods.
Donations can be made to San Miguel Siempre Hermoso by writing a check payable to Municipio de San Miguel de Allende; donors will receive a receipt issued by the municipal treasury. If donors need a tax deduction receipt, the checks must be written payable to The San Miguel Community Foundation, and handed over at La Conexión, on Aldama 3, Box 117 A.
San Miguel Siempre Hermoso does not have programs targeted to eradicate the graffiti, so currently they are working with Muros en Blanco (Blank Walls), a community organization which emerged a year ago. It has the aim of promoting the urban street art in the municipality.
Colleen Sorenson, who worked with urban street artists in San Antonio, Texas, moved to San Miguel three and a half years ago. She noticed that the tags were increasing in the city and contacted María José Garrido, current director of the Economic Development and International Affairs Department, in order to reduce the problem. “We had the same idea” said Sorenson, since María José Garrido had already the idea to hold a street art festival in colonia Guadalupe, so they started working on it.
The first participation of Muros en Blanco was for the La Calaca Festival by painting and decorating one of the big skulls. Later they also decorated big wooden boxes that were placed on the base of the Christmas tree at the Jardín Principal in 2012. Later, in March this year, they held their first festival, and inaugurated 10 murals, painted by local and national street artists in Guadalupe Art District –in colonia Guadalupe.
The second festival, announced Sorenson, will be held in March next year, and they will decorate with graffiti some of the walls facing the arroyo de las Cachinches in the north area of colonia Guadalupe. In the future, they also will launch some programs to educate the children and youth about respect of private property and other issues.
Francisco “Nadie” Vega, has been doing graffiti for more than 11 years. He was contacted by Colleen through the Economic Development Department. He said that the organization, started by Sorenson, currently involves 10 local street artists, who have left the streets thanks to the organization, and now they have been contacted to do private pieces and even get paid for that. “We want the society to understand that the graffiti is not just art or vandalism, but an opportunity of economic development for those involved,” said Vega.
The artist also commented that currently, colonia Guadalupe has been decorated with 27 murals. For those who visit the neighborhood, there is not a set route to follow, they should just walk and discover the marvelous murals by themselves. In the beginning, mentioned Vega, it was complicated to get walls from the neighbors, they had doubts about the project, but now they have even offered their properties to be decorated.
A 20-year-old youth, Francisco Jacof, has been tagging for more than six years in the city, and he said that the tags have different meanings that only the street taggers can understand. The meaning could be “I placed my signature here, where no one has done it, or also, this is my territory.” Jacof commented that the society must not judge them as criminals if they have a spray can in their hand, they are also artists, as much as those who wield a brush.
This tagger said that once he was put behind bars by the police officers because they found cans of spray in his bookbag. “I do tags, and I know that it is illegal, but that time I was on my way home after doing a private work,” he said. He also commented that being a tagger is a vice, because when he is walking and sees a wall he imagines what could he paint there, “once you start, you cannot stop,” he concluded.