FYI: Graffiti, street art collide in Phoenix

Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series called FYI, which examines Arizona stories and issues using multimedia and data.

One of Phoenix’s most prominent art venues is Roosevelt Row. Located on Roosevelt Street between Central Avenue and Seventh Street, it hosts a variety of art fixtures such as Meejin Yoon’s “Shadow Play,” an art installation that was finished in July.

Named a “Great Place in America” by the American Planning Association, downtown Phoenix hosts a variety of entertainment venues, such as opera houses and theaters, but what sets downtown Phoenix aside from other cities is its bold art fixtures.

And the most prominent feature of Roosevelt Row is its street art, the colorful walls line the street.

Some boast the name of businesses, such as Angels Trumpet’s wall that is decorated with an orange-winged angel holding a tray of beverages among a yellow background. Others are more abstract, like the black and white piece of a man wearing a helmet riding his bike with flowers sprouting from the back of his bike.

Local street artist Jesse Perry, or better known as MrDowntownPHX on social media, has several pieces on display in the area. One of his larger works, a wall mural, adorns the northeast wall of the now-closed PAZ Cantina.

It features a white rabbit lounging on a bed of cacti while holding a taco in its left hand and a sign bearing the words, “Welcome to Downtown,” in its right. The future of the piece is uncertain because of the building’s impending demolition and rebuild.

“Street art is something that really adds either value to a property or cultural value to an area, and that’s something that you will find intrinsic of most street art whether it is commissioned or noncommissioned,” Perry said.

However, there is a difference between street art and graffiti.

“Graffiti really lends itself to the destruction of a property or lowering the property values something that somebody is going to have to spend money to cover up,” he said. “That in the general eye of the public, it’s distasteful.”

Perry added that Phoenix doesn’t have the same amount of regulation on art as in other cities. He said that this is because artists would just paint the walls in Phoenix, which helped the city refocus its attention downtown.

“One of the great things that you’re seeing is these artists that put their time and efforts in for free 10 years ago starting to get paid for it. They’re creating careers and creating inspirational pieces of work that are driving tourists here,” Perry said.

However, street art is not always preserved on its urban canvas. Graffiti Busters, an organization that removes graffiti from the greater-Phoenix area, cleans up any graffiti, whether it be intended as an art piece or not, that may lie on any surface that is maintained by the city, such as utility boxes, sidewalks and telephone poles.

Sevag Hayan, a Graffiti Busters clerk, said the program only deals with cleaning up the graffiti from public areas.

While graffiti may typically be thought of as spray painted text, the program defines graffiti as anything painted on a fixture that the property owner does not want on their property. However, if the owner of the building says that the art is supposed to be there, the program will leave it alone.

“Our goal is to help the property owners,” Hayan said.

Graffiti Busters is a nonprofit organization that reaches out to the community to assist in cleaning up neighborhoods. Hayan said that the program works through school groups that want to participate in the cleanup process, and the group’s main goal is to assist the residents of areas that have unwanted graffiti.

“It keeps our crews pretty busy,” Hayan said.

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