Wei-Huan Chen/Journal & Courier

Wei-Huan Chen/Journal & Courier

Street art has a singularly provocative way of relating stories and current events. It reaches out to people of the street, people who feel disenchanted, disaffected, disempowered, and speaks to them in a voice they can relate to. It’s always been underground and it’s always been boundary-pushing. Yet the (fairly-recent) push into the mainstream has brought about an acceptance by the public in general which has both helped and hindered the art.

When cities themselves start commissioning work, a new level of complication is brought to street art – because how can something be truly meaningful when it’s being controlled by the authorities it once railed against? Proof of these complications came last week in Lafayette, IN, when a piece of street art depicting a cop in riot gear – a commentary on the recent uprising in Ferguson – was ordered to be destroyed for being “offensive”.

The complainants were Lafayette police officers, who were outraged that the city would sanction the piece. Although the police chief states the officers complained in an unofficial capacity, the director of the art project ordered Aaron Meldon, the artist, to take down the piece. Meldon covered the art in red paint, and is planning a replacement piece.

Wei-Huan Chen/Journal & Courier

Wei-Huan Chen/Journal & Courier

According to the Lafayette Journal and Courier, curator of the project Zach Medler states that:

“…the controversy highlights the importance of encouraging, not suppressing, dialogue about “bully cop” mentalities.

“I feel bullied right now,” he said.

“My issue with it is free speech. The situation in Ferguson was why they were offended to begin with. … When police complain about it, now we run into First Amendment issues.”

The incident is indicative of the undeniable problem with the mainstreaming of street art. While recognition of it as an art – not just a public nuisance – is a good thing, when the work  is instituted by authorities it loses a substantial amount of its power.

What can the street art community do about it? Have your say in the comments below.

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