Last March, I first posted about the controversy surrounding Fairey's use of Mannie Garcia's photograph as a source for the Obama Hope poster. In that post I referenced the disdain by graffiti artists and the number of challenges these artists have issued to Fairey that have since gone unanswered. If you follow the argument of graffiti artists, Fairey is certainly not one of them. Maria Seda-Reeder's claim that street artists consider Shepard "one of the biggest in our country, if not the world" therefore begs clarification. Biggest what? He's certainly not a graffiti artist. Street artist, maybe. But what does that mean?
As explained in the news report as well as the call for sites by the CAC, the community-wide project is by definition not a graffiti project. The sites have been secured with permission. This project is no different from the MuralWorks projects successfully led by ArtWorks. And we don't consider those examples of vandalism. Instead, we rightfully celebrate the murals with formal openings and recognition of our local artists. To call into question the motivation of the CAC project and collaboration with Fairey risks criminalizing ArtWorks. Or worse, the line of the debate presented by Larry Shields, even if inadvertently, exploits MuralWorks, the work of our local artists teaching emerging artists, and engaging in civic pride, effectively stirring up controversy that is not there.
Linda Holterhoff of Keep Cincinnati Beautiful shouldn't wait for Fairey to speak up against local acts of vandalism. He is simply not the authority. If there is a rise in vandalism during Fairey's visit back to Cincinnati, it will be the result of stories like that of Larry Shields that confuse the issues by asking the wrong questions.
The "art vs vandalism" argument is reserved for graffiti artists. Fairey continues to straddle the fence between graffiti and art as a way to attract controversy. As with the use of Garcia's photograph, Fairey is simply riding on the backs of those artists who do the work. My hope still is that the upcoming CAC show and accompanying programming will be strong enough to begin asking relevant questions.