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On the street 

Spray it, don’t say it

When you’re meandering downtown, I implore you to venture slightly east to the stretch of Nolan Street that extends under the bridge between North Cherry and Chestnut streets. There, you’ll find a pleasant surprise. The concrete walls are no longer kissed with half-effort, random tagging. Now the area is amplified with bright colors and landscapes from the creative minds of more than 60 graffiti artists from across the nation.

As part of a three-day event last weekend, aerosol writers from as far left as Los Angeles and San Francisco, upwards to Indianapolis and Kansas City, and Texas talent from right here gathered under the Nolan Street Bridge for Clogged Caps, an International Street Aerosol Arts Festival — the brainchild of The Laws Crew,, Steve Balser, and artist Victor Zarazua, who approached the City about illuminating the property and were given free artistic reign over one full block.

The festival covered a “canvas” before it was littered with the usual and inevitably dull one-dimensional tagging, and was also intended to help dispel graffiti’s negative perception, organizers and artists said. Graffiti has been gaining cred as a legitimate art form, an advance thanks in part to hip-hop culture, and events like Clogged Caps, which unite a range of artists and provide open space for them to explore the complexity and intention of their work. The City bought into the festival’s mission to motivate youth to use their creative minds to augment their neighborhoods with art instead of being fueled by rivalry or boredom. Perhaps a young tagger will see the Nolan Street work and be inspired to follow a serious graffiti artists’ path.

“A lot are former vandals that took their art to the next level,” said festival organizer Basler.

Painters’ masks and hundreds of MTM Hardcore spraypaint cans exchanged hands quickly as the artists collaborated on the contiguous work. The afternoon’s climate was friendly, teeming with determined artists, friends, and fans of graffiti art. DJs provided the soundtrack for the day, and many parents strolled with little ones in tow, admiring the work.

Immaculately colored tags and landscapes in intense blues and purples began to take shape: Maps detailing cross-sections of our city grew into homages to Johnny Cash and ODB alongside accents of scenery and colors so bright you would swear you could pluck them off the wall.

- Francesca Camillo

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October 20, 2021

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