Officially sanctioned graffiti behind rise in vandalism?

Here is my response to the press concerning the matter. As it turned out, two teenage taggers were arrested for vandalism that night. ‘Today’ published my letter on 12th June 2007.

Art is art, crime is crime – Know the difference!

I refer to the letter by Mr Errol Goodenough, ‘Officially sanctioned graffiti behind rise in vandalism?’ (Today and Straits Times Forum, June 5).
I am an arts educator and have been actively involved in teaching youths the finer points of graffiti and the rich culture behind it. Some of my more prominent works include the large scale graffiti adorning the Telok Ayer Performing Arts Centre as highlighted in The Straits Times on 25 May 2007.
I would like to point out that graffiti and vandalism are not mutually exclusive. It is globally recognised as a contemporary art form that has even found its place in museums around the world.
Just like any other endeavor, when done on a wall or property with the owner’s consent and within the legal boundaries of the law, graffiti is not illegal. To put it in context, a person who enters another person’s house is trespassing unless he has permission or invitation to do so by the house owner.
Granted, a lot of graffiti done around town have been done illegally. I agree that it is a problem that needs to be addressed and in my opinion, the best way to go about this is education. By engaging the youths who are interested in the art form, we can show that there is a perfectly legal way for them to express themselves through graffiti.
Stigmatising graffiti will only push it further underground. We should encourage and support our youths who have a special talent – be it with a spray can, paint brush or marker.
I applaud moves by government bodies and private institutions in organising events like the Singapore Street Fest, Noise Singapore and many other fringe events that feature graffiti. I was also particularly proud to see the art form being included as part of National Day festivities.
Aspiring graffiti artists who wish to leave their mark on the world should be given a legal platform. Creativity among youths will only flourish if we allow them to express themselves and it is up to adults to teach them how they can do so in a responsible manner.
M. Kamal Dollah
This was the reply from the authorities published on June 8, 2007

Vandalism won’t be taken lightly

IN THE letter, ‘Officially sanctioned graffiti behind rise in vandalism?’ (ST, June 5), Mr Errol Goodenough linked the reported incidents of vandalism to officially sanctioned street art.
The Government continues to take a serious view of vandalism and graffiti. It is a serious crime that damages property, lowers the tone of our living environment and diminishes the sense of safety that Singaporeans and foreigners alike enjoy here. We have strict laws against vandalism and will continue to enforce them rigorously.
However, we should not confuse graffiti that is vandalism with street art that is properly executed with the approval of the property owner. Such forms of public art can inject new and interesting elements into our urban life.
Hence, we have specifically defined areas for the creative expression of street art. These include the Skate Park, the National Youth Council building at Orchard Road, as well as the stretch of Sungei Ulu Pandan canal which Mr Goodenough mentioned. The agencies responsible for these areas will ensure that they are well-managed and properly maintained.
These street-art projects ought in no way to encourage graffiti and vandalism, either where the projects are, or anywhere else in Singapore.
While government agencies will make every effort to keep our environment clean and graffiti-free, the public plays a role too. If you come across graffiti in your housing estate, inform the town council and it will clean it up immediately. If you see someone vandalising property, alert the police and those who are found guilty will be punished under the law.
K. Bhavani (Ms)
Director, Corporate Communications Department
Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts

Toh Yong Chuan
Deputy Director, International and Corporate Relations Division
Ministry of Home Affairs

The letter in Straits Times and Today that started it on 5th June 2007

Officially sanctioned graffiti behind rise in vandalism?

IT HAS been 13 years since the Michael Fay case, which sent an unequivocal message that Singapore will brook no nonsense when dealing with vandalism of public and private property.
Since then, however, there are clear signs that the problem is re-emerging.
Graffiti can be seen on an increasing scale at stairwells and along corridors, and on street-side electrical installations, etc.
The recent dastardly act of spray-painting five vehicles in Punggol underlines the seriousness of the matter.I cannot help but feel that certain developments in the last decade may have spurred this current trigger-happy defiance of the law.
I recall past publicity on street festivals where teenagers were encouraged to spray their murals, albeit on dedicated hoardings.
Some months back, the sides of the Sungei Ulu Pandan canal were sprayed with officially-sanctioned graffiti which, incidentally, has now become an eye-sore, exposed as it is to canal humidity and to the elements.
Then, to top it all, even postboxes in some districts made space for personalised art.
In doing so, we could have unwittingly sent the wrong message and even emboldened vandals.
A great deal of explaining would be needed to justify frowning upon (and prosecuting the culprits of) one act, while we openly laud some others.
Even then, as the unfortunate Punggol motorists have discovered, it may be a little late.
Errol Goodenough

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