A medley of media personalities, community activists, municipal bureaucrats and disgruntled hipsters convened Thursday morning at the Northside's Montie Beach Park for the unveiling of a Graffiti Mobile, a vehicle built for the efficient removal of street art. The new set of wheels is the fourth such bus launched by the Greater East End Management District, whose lauded graffiti abatement program drew such admiration from City Hall that it has been contracted to lead a five-year city-wide program.
"I have mixed emotions about being here," Mayor Annise Parker told the crowd. "This is a great new graffiti truck and we are going to do wonderful things with it. The bad news is that we have to do it at all . . . As we get more aggressive, they [graffiti artists] seem to get wilier and find new places to put graffiti."
Parker didn't prove above wily behavior herself: After her address, attendees followed the mayor to a park bench that had been intentionally embellished with graffiti prior to the event. Together with Council Member Sue Lovell, Joe Turner of the Parks and Recreation Department and board chair of GEEMD Andrew Perez, Parker dipped a roller paint brush in brown paint, and despite her pinstripe powersuit getup, rubbed out the faux graffiti in a spectacular publicity stunt.
"This is a feel-good event," Parker said, "but since the media is here, I think we need to make a really strong point: Graffiti is a crime. We spend tens of thousands — in fact, I think it's about a million dollars a year cleaning up graffiti. Those are your tax dollars we're spending."
Both Lovell and Parker recognized the validity of street artists who take advantage of government-sanctioned mural commissions. But in a constrained economic climate, it's unclear whether a new Graffiti Mobile is the best use of tax dollars.
Certainly the money spent on Thursday morning's party favors — custom Graffiti Mobile-shaped cookies, purchased from Dinner Bell Cafeteria by the Greater East End Management District — was not a fine example of wise budgeting.
Editor's note: Don't miss CultureMap's earlier story, in which Houston's most prominent street artists react to the news of the Graffiti Mobile.