A city program is now weaning graffiti artists off their addiction by training them to use acrylic paints and paintbrushes instead of paint cans.
Whenever a teenager is arrested for tagging in the streets, they are sent to the ten-week ‘Paint Straight’ course, which takes place at Brooklyn Family Court. Established by graffiti legend Rafael Perez (Tatu Xmen), the teens are able to relate to their teachers and understand that the lessons only work for their benefit.
“When I look at you I look at myself 20 years ago,” Perez said. “And one day you’re going to need a job.”
According to his estimate, Perez caused millions of dollars of damage in his time. He was never arrested, because at the time New York put all its efforts towards reducing homicide rates.
Graffiti book author David Villorente said “There was no real risk of getting caught until Giuliani got into office. I was still painting trains when it was a slap on the wrist.”
Perez told his students “I love graffiti, but now I love it legally. If somebody writes on my house I’m pissed.”
Probation Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi explained “I’m not the commissioner of cultural affairs. At the end of the day my job is to make sure these kids don’t get arrested. And this is about as good as it gets.”
Since the program’s inception, only one in 33 teens has been rearrested.
“We’re not critics,” said Sergeant Herb Mai of the NYPD’s Vandals Squad told the kids. “Some of it, if it’s on the canvas, it’s gorgeous. You have a talent. It’s an amazing talent. Use it the right way.”