STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
Carly Fox, Brazil, Urban Development and Planning
The Legitimization of Clandestine Graffiti in Salvador de Bahia
Graffiti is usually viewed as an illegitimate art form and is typically criminalized. In 2005 the mayor of Brazil’s third largest metropolis listened to young people’s idea to, in their words, “turn the city into a canvas for graffiti artists,” and implemented the Projeto Salvador Graffita (Salvador Graffiti Project, SGP). When I went to Salvador in 2006 I was stunned and enamored by the colorful murals that laced the city. The main objective of my proposed study, The Legitimization of Clandestine Graffiti in Salvador de Bahia, is to explore the origin, components and impact of the SGP on the lives of graffiti artists using participatory research methods that involve them in a process of reflection and evaluation. My research will aim to impact the ways in which we think about graffiti and transform our perception of it as a social ill into a culturally-rich asset that can simultaneously beautify a city’s walls as well as its young peoples’ lives.
As part of my Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship in 2006 I began to explore why the city I had visited a year prior had filled with elaborate graffiti murals. I learned that João Henrique Barradas Carneiro, the mayor of Salvador, had implemented a bold initiative to transform the tagged city walls into colorful graffiti art pieces with positive social messages for the public. SGP established salaried positions for dozens of local graffiti artists – some of whom had been the city’s most notorious taggers. They painted walls, bridges, trucks, trains, overpasses, garbage cans, public hospitals and schools. I was stunned. Usually graffiti artists risked arrest when they expressed themselves, but by hiring them, the government was legitimizing their form of expression as a positive contribution to the city.
My preliminary research on the Salvador Graffiti Project concluded that the project addresses multiple challenges commonly found in the urbanizing Global South such as contention of public space, young and poor people who feel marginalized, and lack of jobs and access to education. The project has been life-changing for those involved, generating income for artists’ families, increasing their self-esteem and fostering civic participation. Through their participation young people from the periphery feel a sense of validation and are empowered to call attention to the plight of their communities, while utilizing their skills and talents as a positive force for change. In the words of a member of the Aiyê Hip Hop network – the group that conceptualized the idea of SGP - the project feeds two entities- “that of the stomach and that of the soul.” As a result of SGP, graffiti artists have begun to conquer the public’s approval of street art and are re-shaping the future of graffiti in their city. Graffiti art is now making its way into galleries and art museums. Artists and administrators have presented the project at international fora.
Though many visitors to Salvador have marveled at the stunning city art, no one has ever formally researched or published on the project. I am proposing to research the impact of the Salvador Graffiti Project on the lives of the artists who have been involved. I will focus on the life-changing aspects of the program and how effective it has been as an asset-rich youth development program for at-risk young people that addresses issues like self-esteem. I will explore questions such as: In what ways can a city government agency impact the lives of the participating young people? What mechanisms does the government take to invest in these young people beyond providing them with a job? In what ways could SGP better address their needs, such as providing arts education, capacity building, or job training skills?
I would like to increase the program’s visibility for the benefit of practitioners in many fields, such as urban planners, youth development organizations and city governments. After completion of the Fulbright program, I will return to the United States to pursue my PhD and continue my work in the field of youth development armed with the understanding of a creative and alternative program different from anything we’ve seen in the United States.
Affiliation: Through my FLAS research I have already made many contacts and am pursuing these leads to concretize an appropriate and supportive university affiliation. In 2006 I worked with the SGP Program Director, Edvando Luiz Castro Pinto, and lead graffiti artists from the project – such as “Lee,” “Pinel,” “Denis Sena,” “Samuca,” “Julio,” “Verme” and “Bigod” – to carry out my research. It is through these contacts that I am exploring potential leads with the Federal University of Bahia’s Fine Arts Department, where a number of artists from the program are currently studying. I also have potential leads at the State University of Bahia, the Gregòrio de Mattos Foundation - a prominent cultural NGO in Salvador and the Cultural Institute Brazil Italy Europe. Further, my professor at Cornell University, William Goldsmith, who has done extensive research in Brazil, has agreed to assist me in establishing contact with universities and gaining access to information in both Salvador and in Rio de Janeiro.
Research methodology: Because the Salvador Graffiti Project empowers the artists involved, my research methodology design needs to reflect this empowering experience for the artists. I will use participatory research methodology, which seeks to involve the “subjects” as “co-researchers” in a collaborative investigative process. The meaning of graffiti artists’ experience will be interpreted and constructed by both me, as the primary researcher, and select graffiti artists as research participants. Together, we will conduct focus groups and extended interviews with all of the artists involved. We will also interview others who either were impacted by, or had an impact on the program, such as the mayor, the Program Director, art museum curators and NGO-partners. I will also conduct a survey of specific groups who have been impacted by the project such as artists’ families, graffiti artists who never participated in the program and government officials who have been impacted by the program. Once the data has been collected and analyzed, I hope to broaden access to the research by publishing and creating a toolkit for municipal governments who are interested in replicating similar graffiti programs in their cities.
Timeline: During the first two months of the program (March-May, 2010) I will re-establish contact with the dozen or so graffiti artists and government officials in the program who I met in 2006, identify and begin to work with potential co-researchers (former and current artists from the project), co-create and carry out our interview instruments and focus groups. During June and July we will finish interviewing all of the artists who have been a part of SGP (approximately 50) and survey artists’ family members. By the end of July I will have conducted a key set of qualitative extended interviews and will begin to analyze the results. From August-September I will conduct interviews with additional actors in the project who play a secondary role in its success and/or contribute to its challenges. From October-November I will collaborate with artists and government officials to publish a resource geared towards informing other city governments interested in replicating the project.