Art or criminal activity? Artists or criminals? Bernalillo County can't seem to make up its mind when it comes to graffiti and its practitioners.
A few months ago, the county mistakenly painted over a landmark 150-yard-long mural alongside Acme Iron and Metal off Second Street in the North Valley [News Feature, "White Wash," May 10-16]. The artists had the permission of the wall's owner, Jerold Schmider, to pull together all the old writers from throughout the city and beyond to spray intricate, detailed works.
A resident couldn't make the mural-tagging distinction, either. "We got a call on our graffiti hotline. Some people didn't recognize the mural as artwork and thought it was graffiti. We went through our procedures, and we painted over the mural," admits Ed Chismar, director of Bernalillo County's Parks and Recreation. But Chismar gets the difference. He was supposed to take writers Sofa and Went to the store on the morning of Friday, July 27, to purchase paint the brothers would use to redo their mural. "I'm a supporter of the First Amendment," Chismar says. "To express yourself in art is another form of expression. That would support the artwork done by the brothers."
A nice, tidy reconciliation. Or is it?
Turns out Parks and Rec didn't buy the paint Friday morning due to scheduling difficulties. Additionally, the Second Annual Albuquerque Old-School Reunion planned for this weekend, in which the writers would reconvene with the newly bought paint to reclaim their wall, didn't go through as planned, either. Sofa got word that the Sheriff Department's Gang Unit was going to show up to monitor the daylong mural effort. "It's ruined," said Sofa when he called the Alibi on Thursday, July 26, before the scheduled event. "Nobody wants to show up now. There's nothing I can do."
Sofa and Went had been working alongside Bernalillo County, planning to freshly buff the wall and remove the weeds in the area. They'd also invited local TV and news media to cover the repainting. Sofa says he had to call it off because he didn't want his fellow writers to be in that hostile situation. "I'm sick of this," says Sofa. "It's totally legit, and they're still trying to sweat us. We're trying to work with these people."
The Gang Unit could not be reached for comment before deadline. Chismar confirms the Gang Unit was "very interested" in the event. There's a lot of concern about graffiti in the North Valley, Chismar adds. Just last week, homeowners met with the Sheriff's Department to talk about the tagging problem spreading through the area. Sofa hasn't been a tagger for years, though. "I'm not even a gang member. I'm frustrated," he says.
Still, Chismar says he's going to help Sofa and Went reschedule the reunion for sometime in the next month.