There is no doubt that those of us who live in this City love our art in public places. From the tip of Manhattan, north and south and into the outer boroughs, we are surrounded with an ever changing canvas. The free flowing world of graffiti artists runs the gamut from commissioned pieces on legal walls to unauthorized work on the walls of privately owned buildings, much of which is quickly painted over.
The most recent major loss to the graffiti community was the whitewashing of the warehouse at 5 Pointz, bringing new light to the old question: Is it art and does it matter? Long before, some communities took a stand to preserve and encourage this art form. One of the best examples of this can be found in East Harlem and one of their major preservation accomplishments has been The Graffiti Hall of Fame in the playground of the Jackie Robinson Educational Complex.
The complex houses four small schools ranging from elementary through high school and the playground is an ever-changing gallery on all sides. Founded in 1980 by a local community activist, the purpose of The Graffiti Hall of Fame was to give graffiti artists a permanent place to hone their skills in a safe and open environment. It has evolved to become an internationally known destination for the Who’s Who in graffiti, and this past July they celebrated their 30th anniversary in grand style.
The artwork surrounds the playground on the inside and out, and while it is located on a level below street grade, it is highly visible from the sidewalk and secured by a chain link fence generally open to the public when school is not in session or by local tours.
Currently over twenty pieces occupy the side, center and exterior walls of the Jackie Robinson Educational Complex playground. The Graffiti Hall of Fame is not alone in trying to preserve the artwork in the East Harlem community. For more then 30 years, the mural “The Spirit of East Harlem” has graced the wall on the southeast corner of East 104th Street and Lexington Avenue.
On Second Avenue and 128th Street, the mural “Crack is Wack” was painted by Keith Haring in 1986. East Harlem is sprinkled with murals bearing the name Vega—James De La Vega, whose murals often depict life’s struggles, and Manny Vega known not only for his larger than life building murals but also for colorful mosaics. Standing on the corner of Lexington and 104th Street, you will be surrounded by these works and it’s easy to see why El Barrio has good reason to pride itself on their many preservation accomplishments.