New Showgirl Galleria to Open, Promote Violence against Women

Grand Rapids City officials announced last week that they cannot deny a building permit to Mark London, a man who is planning to open a new “adult entertainment business” called Showgirl Galleria in downtown Grand Rapids.

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Grand Rapids City officials announced last week that they cannot deny a building permit to Mark London, a man who is planning to open a new “adult entertainment business” called Showgirl Galleria in downtown Grand Rapids. The City has exhausted all of its legal options–even denying a liquour license to the project failed to stop it–and indeed London seems bolstered by the denial of the liquour license enthusiastically proclaiming that his new “business” can feature totally nude dancers as Michigan law restricts establishments serving alcohol to only topless dancers. Showgirl Galleria will combine live “entertainment” with two store-fronts selling “toys” and “hardcore videos.” The opening of London’s Showgirl Galleria and Tini Bikinis this summer are a sign of demand for “adult entertainment services” generated by the opening of the new DeVos Convention Center and many of the business travellers who pass through town.

London claims that the debate is one of free speech and argues that the free speech protections in the Bill of Rights allow such a business in the downtown area. However, London’s claim ignores the potential negative impacts of such a “business” both on the women who work there and the men who attend. The viewing of pornography distorts sexuality and creates a world of male-dominance in which women are objects that exist to fulfill the needs of males. A study on pornography and violence found that there are three basic themes of pornography that reinforce misogynist and patriarchal views of women–that all women want sex at all times from all men, that women enjoy all sexual acts that men perform and demand, and that any woman who does not realize this can be convinced by force. While there is some debate as to what extent viewing pornography creates the potential for violence against women, it certainly contributes to unhealthy views of sex and sexuality. Moreover, views within the feminist movement have also varied, with some defending pornography and others arguing that pornography is one of the central ways in which men subjectify women and one of the key tenants of patriarchy.

With the city unable to do anything to stop the project, it is hoped that community groups and residents of the downtown area might do something to stop the project. In the past activists have used a variety of tactics in confronting such establisments.

London will begin renovating the former “Senette Building” located at 234 Market Avenue. London also owns Sensations at the Centerpointe Mall.

New Study Finds Rent Unaffordable for a Third of Americans

A new study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition has found that the cost of rental housing in the United States is out of reach for the majority of low wage earners, including elderly and disabled people with public income benefits. The report states that a third of the nation has difficulty affording rent and most often choose between paying rent and other expenses such as food. In 2004, the cost of rent continued to grow faster than wages and there is not a single jurisdiction in the country where a person working full-time at minimum-wage can afford a two bedroom rental home.

Here in Michigan, a person earning the minimum wage of $5.15 per hour must work 105 hours per week in order to afford a two-bedroom unit at the Fair Market Rent rate of $706 per month.

Jay Van Andel Dies at Age 80: A Critical Look at the Philanthropy of Van Andel and Devos

While the media has touted Jay Van Andel’s philanthropy, he and Amway co-founder Richard DeVos have used their fortunes to promote their own far right political agendas.

According to the latest Forbes list of the worlds billionaires, the late Jay Van Andel was worth 2.3 billion dollars while his business partner Rich DeVos is worth 2.4 billion. Yesterday, Media Mouse looked at how these two men accumulated their vast fortune. Today we will look at how they have used their fortunes to promote their own far right political agendas. Here is a list of some of the more prominent organizations that have received money form Van Andel and DeVos

(The following information reprinted, edited and updated from the article “Giving till it Hurts others: Another look at Rich and Jays Benevolence” Vol. 7 #3 of The Fundamentalist, Summer 1998 issue.)

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church

The DeVos Foundation has given this Florida based church nearly fourteen million dollars from 1991 to 1998, and a further five billion from 1998 to 2002. Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is a “mega church” and seminary headed by pastor James Kennedy. Kennedy was an original board member of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority organization, a group that is anti-gay, promotes patriarchal gender relationships and also is an unequivocal supporter of the policies of the state of Israel. Kennedy has also served as a spokesperson for the Promise Keepers and been a board member of the Coalition for Religious Freedom, a front group for the pseudo-fascist Rev. Moon.

More disturbing is the Reconstructionist theology that Kennedy and the Amway co-founders endorse. This type of theology believes that civil law should be replaced by Christian biblical law. According to author Fred Clarkson, Kennedy said that “Nobody has the right to worship on this planet any other God than Jehovah. And therefore the state does not have the responsibility to defend anybody’s pseudo right to worship an idol.” (Eternal Hostility, Clarkson 1997)

Kennedy, who also hosts a national conference called Reclaiming America for Christ, has a weekly TV Program that airs on 550 stations, three cable networks, and three satellite networks. Truths That Transform, Dr. Kennedy’s daily half-hour radio program, airs on over 500 outlets across America. The Kennedy commentary, a daily three-minute radio feature, is heard on over 300 facilities. In 1995, CRM launched the D. James Kennedy Center For Christian Statesmanship in Washington, D.C., in an effort to lobby Capitol Hill. The Center conducts weekly Bible studies for Capitol Hill staff, “Evangelism Explosion” training and an annual “Christian Statesman of the Year” banquet.

Michigan Family Forum

Closer to home the Michigan Family Forum (MFF) promotes hatred towards gays and lesbians, has close ties to former governor John Engler, and has been actively creating political action committees in churches across the state.

In his book The Religious Right in Michigan Politics, author Russ Bellant states that the MFF works closely with James Dobson’s Focus on the Family to organize Community Impact Committees. Standard reading material for these groups have included works such as Randall Terry’s Operation Rescue, a fanatically anti-choice text and Fr. Enrique Rueda’s Gay’s, Aids and You, which teaches hate toward gays and lesbians. Another author recommended is Paul de Parris whose name appeared on a letter endorsing the murder of Dr. David Gunn by anti-abortionist Paul Hill. Former Senior Vice President of “Focus on the Family”, Gil Alexander-Moegerle wrote a book about Dobson in which he describes Dobson as “a creature of inner rage, intense racism, sexism, and homophobia .”

MMF supported the recently passed Proposition 2, misleadingly called the “gay marriage amendment.” MMF also has pushed for a state “marriage preservation” bill as well as abstinence promotion in place of sex education.

The Heritage Foundation

A major recipient of both the DeVos and Van Andel Foundations, the Heritage Foundation is the most active right-wing think tank in the US. Founded in 1973 by beer baron Joe Coors (a close friend of DeVos) this organization has promoted White superiority and a contempt for the poor. From 1973 – 1982 the Chairman of the board for Heritage was former congressman Ben Blackburn, who once said “voting is not an inherent right but a privilege that should be qualified by some sort of literacy test.” In testimony before a House committee Blackburn advocated for publicly hanging housing tenants who fell behind in their rent payment.

Most notable has been the Heritage Foundation’s promotion of conservative economic programs. They wrote the incoming Reagan administrations policy guide Mandate for Change that advocated the elimination of Food Stamps, Medicare, child nutritional assistance, farm assistance, legal services for the poor, and the repeal of a $1,000 tax exemption for the elderly. Heritage’s current director is Ed Feulner. Feulner has been a member of numerous organizations that have promoted various dictators throughout the world. He is a member of the World Anti-communist league (WACL), which has ties to death squads in Latin America, and the Free Congress Foundation, another recipient of DeVos money.

Free Congress Foundation, Council for National Policy, and the Conservative Caucus

These three organizations have missions and board members that overlap. Richard DeVos even served as a board member of the Council for National Policy (CNP) at one time. All three groups have supported US foriegn policies that have resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. The Free Congress Foundation (FCF) actively supported the Contra terrorist forces in the 1980’s in Central America, Chilean dictator Pinochet, and Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan, all of which committed massive atrocities against civilians in the 1980’s. According to author Russ Bellant, FCF’s Paul Weyrich has also involved the organization in the WACL, CIA covert actions, and support for Eastern European Nazi collaborators.

The Council on National Policy is an organization made up of people like former drug and gun runner Oliver North and R.J. Rushdoony, a Christian Reconstructionist who believes that children should be given the death penalty for disobeying their parents. This group chastised Reagan in the 80’s for not being supportive enough of the South African apartheid regime. One board member, Don McAlvany, while on a trip to South Africa in 1989 suggested that someone might want to kill Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In the US the CNP promotes the theories of groups like the Pioneer fund that believes that Blacks are genetically inferior to whites.

The Conservative Caucus (CC) is headed by Howard Phillips who has for years maintained close ties to the John Birch Society. The CC has been involved in many of the same causes as the CNP and the FCF, but one country’s politics have been dear to them for years. Angola has been at the center of CC’s foreign policy concerns for years. CC backed the terrorist Jonas Savimbi, former leader of the group UNITA. UNITA has one of the worst human rights records in all of Africa according to both Amnesty International and Africa Watch, and has been a political tool of numerous US administrations from Reagan till today. Phillips and the CC have been lobbying Congress for years in favor of UNITA.

Other noted recipients of the “untold millions” are Hillsdale College whose former president George Roche (forced to resign after being implicated in a sex scandal involving his daughter in law) sat on the advisory board of the US affiliate of the World Anti-Communist League. This educational institution has hosted forums with speakers such as Manuel Ayau, a member of Guatemala’s Amigos del Pais, a group linked to death squads. Hillsdale also houses the late John Bircher Clarence Manion’s tape collection, with lectures by former Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza. Hillsdale’s magazine Imprimis provides a forum for anti-minority views. In one issue they gave space to the director of English Only (another Rich and Jay recipient), to condemn advocates of cultural diversity and bilingual education. This compliments Van Andel and DeVos foundation money that goes to TEACH Michigan and Mackinac Center, which are militantly anti-public education.

Conclusion

This is only a sampling of the groups that both Van Andel and DeVos have contributed to through their foundations. It should be noted that all of these donations are tax right-offs. That the local press did not present any of this information while spending an exorbitant amount of time praising Van Andel for a lifetime of “philanthropy” is unfortunate but hardly surprising. Nor did the local press blink an eye about the assumption that the fortune that Van Andel “gave away” was his to give. Neither Jay Van Andel nor Dick DeVos became rich solely through their own work, but through the work of thousands who have made and sold Amway/Alticor products.

Hopefully this post will give the reader some sense of where the Amway founders have sent there money and what it supports. In some sense none of this should be surprising, it is what all rich men do. They support projects that maintain and promote their ideological and economic interests. It’s just that they want to create the illusion that they are great “givers” to the community. Unfortunately it is a message the local media are only too willing to comply with.

More Condos Proposed for Wealthy in Downtown Grand Rapids

In an article in Tuesday’s Grand Rapids Press it was reported that yet another upscale housing development is being proposed for downtown Grand Rapids. The latest project would be a 10-story condominium tower on the corner of Fulton and Division where there is currently a vacant Junior Achievement building.

The $32 million building, dubbed “Park Place,” would consist of 150 “high-end” condominiums. The condos would have limited accessibility to many traditional residents of the neighborhood with prices ranging from $300,000 to over $1 million per unit. The project is being designed by Design Plus and will be marketed to “empty-nesters and professionals” who want to live in the downtown area.

As is the case with similar projects currently under construction, the new condominiums will not be affordable to many longterm residents in downtown Grand Rapids. Moreover, the project is characteristic of recent development in downtown–it caters only to the wealthy. None of the recent housing projects have any low income units, nor has any of their space been set aside for downtown residents without homes. The Grand Rapids Press has also recently reported that homeless people have begun sleeping in Heartside Park, clearly demonstrating the need for housing that is accessible to people of all (or no) income levels. The article on homeless people in Heartside Park was notable because it discussed, however briefly, the tensions between upscale residents and homeless people. While it has not become a major issue in Grand Rapids yet, in other cities upscale housing generally leads to increased police patrols and the criminalization of people without homes.

In addition to the proposed Park Place, there are a number of other upscale developments planned. Second Story properties is renovating the downtown YMCA, previously low income housing, into 40 upscale condominiums. More than 52 condominiums and apartments are being planned on the upper floors of a series of buildings along two blocks of Monroe Center.

Two Grand Rapids Projects Receive Cool City Grants

Governor Jennifer Granholm announced 20 grant recipients as a part of Michigan’s Cool City initiative. Two projects in Grand Rapids received grants of $100,000–The Avenue for the Arts Projects that includes the historic renovation of seven buildings, streetscape improvements, and the development of 35 loft apartments and The Uptown Revitalization Project that includes a retail development utilizing green technology, facade improvements, and an effort to create a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.

According to the project description, “Cool Cities is about creating hot jobs in cool neighborhoods throughout Michigan. It’s about attracting and encouraging people — especially young people — to live, work and shop in the cool cities we are working hard to create together.” Without the superlatives, the Cool Cities Project began in June 2003 as a way of promoting development that would be more oriented towards young professionals.

The project will designate more grant recipients in 2005 and will continue collecting data from online surveys given to college students and post-graduation young people in order to develop resources and marketing strategies for new development projects. The project issues periodic reports of survey results, with the first report released in April.

It is also worth noting that much of the project is based on Richard Florida’s Creative Class Theory and while many have praised his theory of development driven by attracting young professionals, it has been the target of criticism both in its theory and in its practice.

New Wal-Mart Stopped in Charlevoix

The planned construction of a new Wal-Mart Supercenter has been stopped in Charlevoix after the company announced that it was withdrawing its application to build a store on 24-acres of land.

While Wal-Mart did not give a specific reason for canceling the construction, it likely was the result of resistance from local citizens. Local citizens formed a group called This is Our Town not Wal-Mart’s and effectively made use of a variety of efforts–petitions, attending city council meetings, using the local media, and popular education–in order to raise questions about Wal-Mart’s potential effect on Charlevoix.

As previously reported by Media Mouse, Wal-Mart continues to be the target of significant criticism from a variety of groups around the country. Adding to this criticism is a new report by Good Jobs First examining Wal-Mart’s receipt of economic development subsidies from taxpayers. The report documents $1 billion in subsidies that Wal-Mart received from state and local governments. The subsidies have taken a variety of forms–free or reduced price land, property tax breaks, state corporate income tax credits, and others–all of which were received during the period in which Wal-Mart became the largest corporation in the world.

The study also challenges the notion that Wal-Mart is a positive economic force in local communities. The Good Jobs First report argues that, unlike factories which add jobs and export products outside the region, big chain retailers like Wal-Mart “do little more than take revenues away from existing merchants and may put them out of business and leave their workers unemployed. It’s quite possible that a new Wal-Mart will destroy as many (or more) jobs than it creates” and “since many Wal-Mart [jobs] are lower-paying and part-time, they will do less to stimulate the economy.” Philip Mattera, research director of Good Jobs First, says Wal-Mart’s “negative effect on small businesses in the communities where it locates and its contribution to urban sprawl and traffic raise serious questions about the value of giving it sizable financial incentives to expand.”

Building used by Graffiti Artists Demolished

graffiti_building.jpg

An abandoned building in downtown Grand Rapids that has long been used by graffiti artists as a place to paint is in the process of being demolished. The building, located next to Rosa Parks Circle, became a popular place to paint as there was a minimal chance of getting in hassled by the police.

While graffiti artists can easily find another place to paint, the demolishment of the building is indicative of a larger and more serious problem with the development strategy currently being used in downtown. Rather than using old and abandoned buildings for social housing projects that could house downtown residents (both those currently living in homes and those who are not), buildings are being sold at low prices (frequently by the city) and renovated into upscale condominiums and restaurants that, by virtue of their cost, are not accessible to traditional residents of the downtown area. It should be noted that this particular building was demolished for a new art museum, and while that is ostensibly better than more condos, it is still a part of a development vision that wants to promote an upscale atmosphere in downtown. Moreover, the news media, specifically The Grand Rapids Press and IndulgeGR, champion this type of development for creating a “big-city atmosphere” downtown, while ignoring questions of accessibility and the desires of existing residents.

More on Graffiti in Grand Rapids:

New Entertainment Magazine in Grand Rapids

A new glossy entertainment magazine, IndulgeGR, with the tagline “Hip – Informative – Entertaining,” has been released in Grand Rapids.

A new glossy entertainment magazine, IndulgeGR, with the tagline “Hip – Informative – Entertaining,” has been released in Grand Rapids. Apparently, the magazine has an extensive budget, as it is printed on glossy paper and has a significant number of distribution boxes all over town. However plentiful the resources are behind the magazine, it lacks in substance. Most of the magazine is filled with a discussion of the “hippest” bars and clubs in downtown, generally reading like a college newspaper (poor writing and grammar errors included) extolling the joys of drinking and barhopping interspersed with the occasional “political” article that reads like a poorly informed rant from someone in an introductory political science course. Most disturbingly, the magazine, both in its own content and the advertisements it runs, extensively objectifies women–reinforcing the sexism of the both the club scene and the larger society while conveying the sense that such attitudes should be considered both normal and acceptable.

IndulgeGR is clearly devoted to promoting a specific lifestyle of consumerism and the magazine’s advertising kit reveals that it exists primarily as a way of reaching a coveted marketing group. According to its literature, IndulgeGR’s readers are “trend setters, educated, and have high disposable income” and are described as “hip, trendy, mobile, club-wise and always looking for the new HOT thing”, and most importantly, are “very local to those [advertisers] who directly target them.” While it does claim to feature “bipartisan commentary” and “edgy, urban and provocative commentary,” the latter style has long been used as a way of advertising to “hip” consumers.

Moreover, there is no discussion of gentrification in the magazine. Of course, no magazine actively trying to portray Grand Rapids as a “hip” city would discuss gentrification as it relates to recent development projects. However, gentrification is a critical component of the effort to make Grand Rapids into a “hip” or “cool city”–new developments consisting of upscale condominiums and clubs in downtown alter the character of the community, displace residents, and bring increased pressure from the police to “clean up” the area and remove people deemed to be undesirable.

It is not surprising to see all the money being used to produce IndulgeGR, but it is particularly disturbing when there is no alternative paper in Grand Rapids. There are already a number of papers focusing on entertainment–Music Revue, On the Town, and Recoil–and a constant flow of advertisements promoting the fantasy world of consumerism that makes the larger part of IndulgeGR’s content.

Graffiti on the Rise in Grand Rapids

In recent months, there has been a notable increase in the amount of graffiti art seen around Grand Rapids, with colorful pieces of art covering previously blank walls throughout the city. This article explores the history of the graffiti scene in Grand Rapids and surveys its current state.

Graffiti Photo

Art by DUSA.BYH

GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Rapids has never been a city known for its graffiti–most graffiti has been confined to alleyways, under bridges, and other out-of-the-way spots, but in recent months graffiti has become increasingly visible in Grand Rapids as artists have grown bolder in their choice of location. This increase in graffiti comes from the “writers” [graffiti term that refers to the people that pain graffiti] that make up the “graffiti scene,” an underground where skill and visibility earn respect, and competition to become the most visible writer drives the competition that is inherent in graffiti.

It is now common to see “throw ups,” or quickly done outlines of graffiti monikers along highways and on walls around Grand Rapids, whereas they were previously confined to secluded locations. Moreover, there has been a notable increase in the quality of such pieces, with artists possessing considerable more skill than their predecessors creating the majority of the new graffiti. The increased frequency of “throw ups” in visible locations has been matched with an increase in the amount of “pieces,” or multi-colored works that take a considerable amount of time to create, being produced in both the secluded areas where graffiti artists have traditionally painted as well as in more visible locations.

Graffiti, from the Greek graphein (to write), has a history that some trace back to the Roman Empire, with examples being found on ruins in Pompeii. However, graffiti as it is commonly conceived is a product of the 20th century. Graffiti art, the focus of this article, comes from the subway graffiti that began to appear in New York City in the 1970s. One of the early writers, TAKI 183, was the first to gain prominence outside the graffiti scene, with an article about him appearing in The New York Times that aided in the public recognition of graffiti. Early artists in New York City gained recognition by painting entire subway cars with large “pieces” (a graffiti term short for “masterpiece”), resulting in a rolling canvas of sorts that took their art all over town. However, as the city of New York was never pleased with graffiti and in 1989 they finally were able to institute a policy of removing subway cars with graffiti on them immediately, an act that helped force graffiti into the streets on billboards, lamp posts, walls, and abandoned buildings.

During the 1970s and 1980s, graffiti spread to other urban areas around the United States, and eventually, throughout the world. Cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles were home to vibrant graffiti scenes, with artists developing a high degree of skill and visibility. In Michigan, Detroit has the longest tradition of graffiti, with numerous artists and graffiti crews covering the town for the past twenty years. Other Michigan cities, such as Ann Arbor and Lansing also have long histories of graffiti, but despite its size, Grand Rapids does not have a particularly well-established tradition of graffiti. While there has certainly been graffiti in the city for a number of years, the scene was never well developed and most of the art was relatively low quality, with the exception of a few artists, compared to what could be found in other Michigan cities.

Graffiti in Grand Rapids has gained relatively little mainstream attention because of its largely hidden nature. Aside from a Grand Rapids Press article titled “Graffiti: Art or Anarchy?” that examined the “graffiti underground” published on November 29, 1987, there has been relatively little public attention focused on graffiti that does not associate it with gangs. The article claimed that “the hieroglyphics [graffiti] are often devoted to the trinity of youthful graffiti: sex, intoxication, and music” finding that anarchy symbols and rock lyrics are among the most common types of graffiti. While the article featured pictures of graffiti art, it failed to make a distinction between the graffiti scene and scribbling, instead treating all types of graffiti as a part of a series of homogeneous expressions of youthful “alienation.”

A History of Distortion

Graffiti has long been erroneously associated with gang activity, a charge that is especially common in Grand Rapids. Many people in the city government and the Grand Rapids Police Department describe graffiti as a means used by gangs to mark their territory and have been able to successfully use the media to perpetuate this myth. However, the majority of graffiti in Grand Rapids has nothing to do with gang graffiti, and many writers refuse to call what local gang members write “graffiti.”

“The gangs do not do graffiti, they simply write their names or draw their logos haphazardly, there is no art involved” according to one local writer, a statement that sums up the essential differences between gang markings and graffiti. While gangs put their names up to intimidate and mark their territory, graffiti artists tag things in order to become known and develop their skills. In addition, a quick comparison of gang writing verses what is done by graffiti writers demonstrates a dramatic difference in aesthetics, as graffiti writers emphasize the art of writing, not just the act of writing.

The association of graffiti with gangs may be a conscious effort to discredit graffiti as an art form or it may be an honest mistake made by city officials, either way it is a problem that faces graffiti artists. Some of the confusion may be a result of the fact that the public face of graffiti in Grand Rapids is most often the tags, or writing of a graffiti moniker all over town — an art form that to people outside of the graffiti scene looks relatively similar to the GD logos and MEXICAN MOB scrawls that are found on some local walls. In addition, while they have not become an integral part of the graffiti scene in Grand Rapids, graffiti artists in other cities frequently form “crews” or groups of artists that band together for the common goal of getting their name all over their city. These crews, taking names such as Legends of Rare DeSign (LORDS) or I CAN FLY crew (ICF) it is conceivable that politicians could believe that graffiti crews are gangs, although it seems more likely that the crews are viewed as gangs simply because it helps to maintain the association of graffiti with gang culture.

A Political Act?

Some people consider graffiti to be a political act — a means of reclaiming blank urban spaces and using art as a way of breaking the monotony of the urban landscape. Such an assessment is relatively uncommon, and indeed most people do not see the connection between graffiti and politics, if such a connection does exist. One local writer that was interviewed takes issue with such an assessment, stating that while there may be a political aspect to graffiti, it is not an inherently political act.

“While there may be an underlying political context that either exists or can be, perhaps justifiably, externally applied to the art of writing — for the most part, people write not for any type of political reason but rather because they simply want to be seen and gain notoriety. It is important to remember, that the main goal of graffiti is to be seen, not to make a political statement,” says a local writer that for security reasons prefers their moniker not be used.

Moreover, the political arguments for graffiti are most often lost on the general public, who generally see graffiti as consisting primarily of the writing of nonsensical names rather than messages of a explicitly political nature. The public also sees only a small portion of the skills developed by writers which hides the more aesthetically pleasing graffiti that could be more easily viewed as a positive reclaiming of public space. It is this desire to get known, or “get up” all over town to become “all city” that motivates tagging, which is probably the most visible form of graffiti in the city of Grand Rapids, as well as the most offensive to most. Tagging involves writing your moniker with marker or spray paint on walls, newspaper boxes, signs, and other such surfaces. While other writers recognize the skill involved in producing a well-executed tag, for most outside the graffiti scene, tags represent little more than scribbles with bizarre combinations of letters and numbers, certainly not a form of political expression.

It is regrettable, that even with the emergence of new writers with a high level of skill in Grand Rapids, the best pieces remain hidden, for the most part, from public view under bridges, along railroad tracks, and other places where members of the public generally do not go. Tags often are indistinguishable to the untrained eye from gang tags, a fact that contributes to the overall hostility towards graffiti. If people saw the skill that goes into producing some of the pieces, there would perhaps be less hostile view of graffiti. However, even when people recognize the skill of graffiti artists, they often feel that while the art may be of quality, vandalizing private property is inexcusable.

The City’s Reaction

It is unclear as to what extent the city has taken note of the recent increase in graffiti, as it has not announced any new programs aimed at reducing graffiti. The city of Grand Rapids Streets and Sanitation Department runs a “Graffiti Busters” program that encourages citizens to report instances of graffiti on their property via a telephone hotline or email in order to facilitate removal by city employees. Graffiti Busters started in 1999 and uses a city employees to remove reported graffiti and coordinates large-scale clean-ups of areas with “chronic graffiti” using volunteers and people sentenced to community service in the 61st District Court. The program is an inter-departmental collaboration, involving the Streets and Sanitation Department, Parks and Recreation Department, Grand Rapids Police Department, Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association, Neighborhood Services, Grand Rapids Information Center, and the City Attorney’s office. However, this collaboration has not necessarily increased the effectiveness of anti-graffiti efforts, many pieces remain up for a long time and the city has still not passed an anti-graffiti ordinance as called for in the program’s description. Funding has come from a variety of sources, including drug forfeiture money from the Grand Rapids Police Department, community development block grants, and general tax fund dollars.

Without a city ordinance, graffiti in Grand Rapids is generally punishable only if officers catch writers while they are writing. If the “damage” from the graffiti is one hundred dollars or less, the charge is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to five hundred dollars and/or ninety days in jail. In situations where “damage” exceeds one hundred dollars, the charge is a felony and writers face a fine of up to two thousand dollars and/or four years in jail.

With most graffiti causing “damage” over one hundred dollars when costs for clean-up are calculated, the penalties are harsh if one is caught in the act. However, it is quite rare for the police to actually catch people while painting, a reality that spurred neighboring Wyoming to pass a city ordinance giving the police greater powers in arresting those suspected of graffiti. The Wyoming ordinance makes it illegal for those under 18 to carry “graffiti implements” described as spray cans, markers, etching tools, and “any other device capable of scarring or leaving a visible mark on glass, metal, concrete, wood, or any other surface.” Police are able to arrest minors carrying the aforementioned items if they have “reasonable suspicion” that the items are going to be, or have been used, for graffiti. The Wyoming ordinance also requires that artists and their parents be held financially liable for graffiti, requiring them to pay the financial costs of painting over the graffiti.

Documenting the Art

With graffiti being an illegal art form, there is an ongoing battle of sorts between writers and the city crews that cover up graffiti with one side wanting to be seen and the other side seeking to paint over the graffiti as fast as possible. In nearby Grandville and Holland, city policy requires graffiti be removed from public or private property within 48 hours of being reported, and as discussed earlier, in Grand Rapids Graffiti Busters aims to eliminate graffiti as fast as possible. For motorists traveling on local highways, evidence of this battle is easy to notice — large grey squares on the concrete walls and support structures that cover up graffiti.

This battle, and the temporary nature of graffiti, presents a problem for another group of people involved in the graffiti art scene, the artists and admirers that attempt to document graffiti. Because of its temporary nature, what is not covered up by the city fades over time, graffiti’s history is documented primarily through photographs, or “flicks” taken of graffiti art. In days before the Internet, people would collect these photographs in albums and trade them, although now flicks are more often collected on websites devoted to graffiti. Such sites vary from those that cover the whole world or entire countries, to those that cover their local graffiti scene exclusively. While there are no websites dealing specifically with graffiti in the Grand Rapids area, according to local writers the graffiti scene is being actively documented, both by its participants and by those on its periphery.

Conclusion

Despite its controversial nature in the mainstream, graffiti is here to stay, and indeed is increasing in Grand Rapids. While city officials and law enforcement officials will no doubt call for increased programs designed eradicate graffiti, these programs have not worked in the past and consequently, they are unlikely to work in the future. Hopefully the citizens of Grand Rapids will see this new wave of graffiti for what it really is, the creation of art by a talented underground of artists who are willing to risk arrest in order to reclaim public space as their canvas.

A photo gallery of some of the graffiti art in Grand Rapids can be found on the Media Mouse site and more information on the history of graffiti can be found on www.artcrimes.org. There is also a site documenting graffiti in Grand Rapids with a large collection of photos at grgraffiti.port5.com.

Residents Ignored Again as Grand Pricks Committee Pushes to Convert Downtown G.R. Streets into a Racetrack!

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (May 1996)

Since as early as 1992 DeVos and two others have been talking about holding “Grand Prix” races in downtown Grand Rapids. These races are held elsewhere in the country, though generally not on city streets! They involve loud, souped up cars that race repeatedly around a track.

Why? Good question!

At any rate, as one might gather from the presence of a DeVos, even such a crazy idea as this is no mere fantasy. In fact, it has been taken seriously by several City officials. Until recently, it was being planned-for July 1997. Now it is tentatively set for August 1998g.

Such an event is said to attract business to the area. In the eyes of some, that seems sufficient to justify virtually anything. Corporate sponsors would cover a good deal of the cost, and it is anticipated that many people would actually pay to witness these cars racing around (apparently they do so in other places).

One of the major corporate sponsors is Exxon, of Alaska oil spill fame. Promoters don’t seem to care what reputation the sponsors bring, so long as they bring their money.

To set up for such a race, which would be held over a three-day weekend and cover a circuit about two miles long, streets must be “rotomilled” and repaved. Manhole (sic) covers would have to be welded shut. Blockades must be set up to protect spectators and others. The route is proposed to fall within DDA (Downtown Development Authority) boundaries “so the DDA can be used as a financial resource to assist in the payment the street improvements.” The DDA, dominated by rich White males who do not live downtown, or necessarily even in the City, has control over millions of tax dollars that are diverted from schools and general government.

A committee supporting this idea says total costs of over $2.5 million would involve essentially no cost to the City other than some staff time. That staff time, in some cases at $30-$50 an hour, has perhaps already been considerable, though no estimate is available on total staff time cost. In addition, there is apparently no contemplation of rental charges for use of downtown streets. Of more concern, citizens would be barred from use of those streets during most of the three-day period of the event. Apparently no cost has been assigned, or even figured, for that loss of use.

In discussing the idea initially, one might think that the committee pushing for this event would want to get-the reaction of Grand Rapids citizens generally, and especially of those who live and/or work downtown. Not so! In setting up initial meetings to pursue the idea, Craig Kinnear, director of the Downtown Management Board, invited presidents or directors of GVSU, the Chamber of Commerce, the Grand Action Committee (a group of rich people who are responsible for the Arena, among other “development” projects), other business and tourist promotion groups, and owners/ managers of various large businesses downtown. NO average citizens were invited, NO residents or representatives of resident groups were invited, NO neighborhood association representatives were invited, NO workers or representatives of worker groups were invited, NO students were invited. In short–business as usual.

When Craig was asked why the planning group was so limited, co responded that any plan needs final City approval, and that public input could occur at that time. Co touted the idea as “an opportunity to showcase Grand Rapids:’ Asked if co had any concern about using Grand Rapids streets to “showcase” such exploitative companies as Exxon, co said simply, “No.”