Breaking the Broken Window

01:00 March 31, 2014
By: Greg Roques
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[Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo]

Graffiti has always been the punk rock of the art world. Like its musical counterpart, it's produced quickly with cheap tools, no rules, and - most importantly - no permission, shouting a big "F-You" at the system loud from atop the walls it vandalizes.


It's because of this rebelliousness that street art is often not regarded as true "art"…many even consider it dangerous. In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell recounts actions taken by the New York City Transit Authority to reduce subway crimes in the 1980s by removing "blight." The foundation of this tactic was a then-recent hypothesis termed the "Broken Window Theory," predicting that visually neglected environments lay down a doormat for further disorder. NYC's urban house-cleaning took effect from 1985 - 1990. During this time, a particular emphasis was placed on scrubbing away any and all graffiti. By the end of the scourge, crime had began to slow, or as Gladwell puts it, "reached its tipping point." Though the author calls into question whether or not the Broken Window Theory truly deserved credit for reducing criminal behavior in the early 90s in New York City, politicians at that time had reached their verdict: graffiti= crime.

But everything has a tipping point. Today, street art is a worldwide phenomenon working its paint-covered fingers through all aspects of popular culture. It can be found gracing the walls of museums and galleries, on t-shirts, and in films, video-games and bookstores.

Street art is so universally embraced, in fact, it has tipped the Broken Window Theory on its head. Graffiti no longer invites crime as the early theory predicted…if properly commissioned, it actually raises properly value.

Living Walls, an Atlanta, GA-based non-profit, partners street artists with neighborhood associations to create inspirational murals to beautify the city. Going on its sixth year, Living Walls has not only generated an ongoing local dialogue about art in public spaces, it has also inspired similar movements in other U.S. cities.


Here in New Orleans, local Bywater condominium Rice Mill Lofts's walls are beautifully tattooed with elegant street art growing all the way up its industrial brick architecture, both inside and out. The inscription "You Are Beautiful," painted along the roof of the building facing the river, was even featured in the opening sequence to the Academy-Award winning Banksy-directed documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop. Speaking of Banksy, a letter to the notorious street artist rebuking the Broken Window Theory is even republished on page 130 of his book Wall and Peace. In the message, a displeased Londoner accuses Banksy of inflicting skyrocketing rent and a pilgrimage of yuppies on his neighborhood following a series of paintings by the artist "defacing" local properties.

Indeed, graffiti's value is selling high these days. So, it is no wonder that brands are looking past traditional commercial artists in search of something more raw and unpolished to give their products some edge.

Recently, Miller Brewing Company reached out to local street artist, Task, to produce a mural capturing the fashionable grittiness of its newest brew, Miller Fortune. Task's work (pictured above) can be found at 2131 Canal St.

Where Y'at sat down with Task to talk about his artistic style, and his thoughts on street art's ascent in popular culture.

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