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Businesses Use Graffiti Art to Keep Graffiti Away

Eastern Group Publications, News Report, Alfredo Aleman Posted: Jul 28, 2009

All around Los Angeles, murals can be readily seen on the walls of pharmacies, clothing stores and markets, usually depicting some sort of message to the community.

While artists may see the murals as cultural and artistic expressions, many of the businesses where the murals are located see the purpose of the murals differently. For many business owners the murals are a defense mechanism, a way to keep taggers and graffiti artists off their property.

And for the graffiti artists who venture off into the business of mural painting on private property, their business model is simple: get paid to keep the graffiti away.

I make a living off it but not every job in the hood pays well cause they dont have the money for it, said Edward Mompeller, who is known in the graffiti world by his moniker, Playboy Eddie.

Not every mural is the same, depicting images born out of Mexican history or folk art. Mompellers work, for the most part, is more modern, portraying graffiti or street art influences more often created with spray paint than paint brushes. For the uninitiated, it may be hard to tell the difference between what he does, and the work of taggers.

Mompeller has been displaying his art on businesses since 1985. The work is not only about making a few bucks, says Mompeller, he also hopes it will keep graffiti off business walls.

If its somebody from the neighborhood that did [the art] and it has something to do with them, then [taggers] wont mess with it, said Mompeller, aka Playboy Eddie.

The business model gained traction in the 1990s when businesses plagued by the high cost of graffiti removal saw the growing respect and acceptance of murals as a way to fight graffiti.

In the 90s, you had a lot more taggers back then who tagged on walls, so we were able to get rid of the vandalism by putting up murals, said Mompeller.

Fees charged by graffiti artists like Mompeller vary anywhere from free to over a thousand dollars, depending on the work to be done.

Despite the price, businesses continue to allow graffiti artists to paint on their properties, with some feeling it is the only way they can control what goes on their walls.

Alberto Sanchez, owner of Chicos Mexican Restaurant in Highland Park, has hired Mompeller several times over the last three years to paint his signature graffiti murals on his building. Low prices and the hope of repelling other non-approved graffiti are his motivation.

He told me that if he puts his art here, (it would keep taggers away) because they respected him, said Sanchez, who also stated that the tagging has not completely stopped.

Sanchez recently paid Mompeller $430 to paint the outside of his restaurant, but only the parking lot displays graffiti art.

It has helped (keep graffiti off my walls) in some ways, said Sanchez. I hope things change.

Two blocks down at Monte Mart, Mompeller offered his services for free, as the market also had problems with graffiti.

The only thing was that as part of our deal, [the art] had to include something about the meat market, said Miguel Morales, the stores manager,

Mompeller used the white wall canvas to create King of the Streets, a mural that served as his message to the neighborhood kids.

I put a message for the kids. That [wall] needed for something to be on there, said Mompeller. If you look at the message it pushes you to stay in business. To have something going on in your life, something to fall back on.

Since King of the Streets was painted a year ago, Monte Mart has not had any problems with graffiti.

While many murals continue to go up on business walls, the city has deemed such works to be illegal.

Murals on private property are prohibited by ordinances, said Pat Gomez, Mural Manager for the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.

According to Gomez, the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety can issue citations to businesses that allow any unauthorized artwork and can have the work removed.

While there is no set protocol in which artists can have their murals registered and protected by the Department of Cultural Affairs, the artists still need permission from the city to paint them.

In the last nine years, 120 (murals) have been registered, said Gomez.

Gomez also estimated that there are over 3,000 murals throughout the city, including those on private properties. How many businesses have been fined, is unclear.

Despite the ordinances that are in place, murals continue to be painted on private property and for some businesses, allowing the painting of the murals to continue is their only defense against graffiti, at least the unsolicited kind.

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