- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2002

Michael Clark, armed with a can of spray paint, was getting ready to do some serious graffiti on the side of a building downtown when police showed up. It took Mr. Clark more than an hour to convince the cops that the city actually wanted him to spray to his heart's content as part of a museum project.
"The cops were alerted when they saw the large crowd of people and cans of spray paint being used on the walls, and assumed that illegal activities were going on," Mr. Clark said.
Those interested in what Mr. Clark and other legal graffiti painters produced can now see the finished product for themselves an 11-panel mural that is on display at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and S Street NW.
Mr. Clark; his wife, Felicity Hogan; and the other artists were part of a joint venture between the Museum of Contemporary Art and Starwood Urban Investments, a company that wants graffiti vandals to see what real urban art looks like.
Starwood got the idea of painting over the outside of all its empty buildings after its representatives saw an exhibition at the museum, "Free Agents: A History of Washington, D.C., Graffiti."
The company approached Mr. Clark and Mrs. Hogan, who are co-directors of the museum, and struck an artistic bargain. They enlisted the help of Roger Gastman, the curator for the "Free Agents" show, to assemble a group of graffiti artists to work on the project.
The artists, who flew in from all over the country to contribute to the exhibit, were not paid for their work, although Starwood paid for all materials needed.
Among the painters were 40-year-old "Zephyr," a legendary New York graffiti artist; Los Angeles-based Shepard Fairey, who contributed his signature drawing "Andre the Giant," which satirizes American corporate advertising; Texas-born photographer Ron English, who has hand-painted over 500 billboards across the country; and Mr. Gastman.
Each artist was given a 9-foot-by-9-foot area to work on, so each panel has a style of its own.
The vibrant colors of the mural have caught the eye, and the fancy, of many local community members.
"This type of art beautifies the neighborhood," said Tony Harvey, a retired Capitol Hill employee and Dupont Circle resident. "There are many levels and layers for what this artwork means for the neighborhood."
Local officials, including D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, frown on graffiti as vandalism. The city has announced a "zero-tolerance" policy, in which illegal graffiti would be chemically erased within 24 hours.
Other cities have similar policies, as well as criminal penalties, even if the criminal is also an artist. Mr. English, for example, has been charged with such offenses on a number of occasions in New York, and has been warned by police that if caught once more, he most likely will serve time.
"Artists that do graffiti want their work to be in non-obscure places," Mr. Clark said. "They want their work to be seen by the people that aren't necessarily going to walk into a museum and spend thousands of dollars to buy paintings, but who are appreciative of the art form itself."

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