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New rules for Venice art walls

A group establishes restrictions at the legal graffiti area in answer to neighborhood concerns.

June 04, 2007|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

Hoping to quell complaints from Venice residents and business owners that painters who use a legal graffiti site are also tagging in adjacent neighborhoods, a local arts group on Sunday launched a new set of regulations for the Venice Graffiti Walls.

Near the former site of the Venice Pavilion -- where paint is slathered on remnants of its concrete walls as well as palm trees -- the area has long been a magnet for graffiti. Painting there was made legal several years ago, but residents complain that taggers are now drifting over from the legal beach area to deface nearby homes and businesses.

The collaborative effort by L.A. city officials, the Los Angeles Police Department, community members and local artists was developed in response to residents' concerns. Under the new system, volunteers will staff the beach site near Windward Avenue on weekends and city holidays and issue would-be artists free permits to paint, organizers said. Police will patrol the surrounding area, cracking down on graffiti vandalism outside the legal site, renamed the Venice Public Art Walls.

"We're all hopeful that people who think that they can bring their spray cans and just roam through the neighborhood and paint everything, that those days are over," said Rand Denny, 44, chairman of the Venice Neighborhood Council's graffiti committee. "We kind of felt like, let's meet in the middle and let's give them a chance."

Under an overcast sky, street painters wielded cans of gray, red and purple spray paint to a hip-hop beat, creating fanciful lettering to kick off the art space's new rules.

Artists are now required to submit sketches for large works. Gang-related and violent images, profanity and pornography are banned. Minors, who under state law are prohibited from possessing spray cans, can use paintbrushes and rollers. Special metal trash bins designed for spray cans are secured with chains and padlocks to prevent teenagers from swiping nearly empty cans.

The site will be closed to graffiti writers during the week. In recent years, the pedestrian junction jammed with in-line skaters "became mobbed with artists," said Stash Maleski, director of the Venice arts organization ICU Art and curator of the art walls.

Disgruntled community members and business owners complained. A few business owners and employees along the boardwalk, where graffiti is scrawled on most signs and awnings, said Sunday they'd rather see the art walls eliminated. One advocated installing security cameras. Denny estimates he repaints streetlights near his home two or three times a week.

"The idea behind this is to satisfy multiple imperatives: artistic and community," said Mike Bonin, chief of staff to City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes Venice. "There are very few places in the city that acknowledge and find a haven for this kind of art," Bonin said. City officials are considering creating similar graffiti-friendly spots in other parts of the city, Bonin said.

Shahen Jordan, 36, is a visual effects artist in the movie business, but used to spray paint as a teenager.

"Before, there was a rush about doing it illegally," Jordan said as he sprayed the finishing touches on a pink and gray cloudscape. "Now it's being recognized as art."

Maleski and others expressed hope that the regulations would preserve more elaborate graffiti pieces longer and prevent novices from covering over time-consuming works.

"This is L.A. culture: graffiti, tattoos, skateboarding, low riders, surfing," said Maleski, blond dreadlocks dangling to his navel. "That's what [people] come to L.A. for."

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