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I turned at the Crotch and walked down Milwaukee, spotted some lovely astronauts spray-painted on a wall, and wondered if Moreno—a young, progressive, Tumblr-using former art student—would consider them "graffiti" or "street art." I called him up to ask.
How do you define “graffiti”?
I think it all comes down to permission. At minimum, it has to have permission granted. If people are doing tagging or gang graffiti, or etching, I consider that illegal. Ninety-nine percent of that stuff is destructive.
Who’s getting tagged in your ward?
The tagging is mostly happening to small and independently owned, women-owned, minority-owned businesses: boutiques, restaurants, and clothing shops. Our community is an artists’ community, but we don't want to have people putting their own paint on small business owners' shops.
I moved to Wicker Park 14 years ago because of the artists, and I want to preserve that. But in my mind, tagging isn't permissible.
What if a super-famous street artist like Banksy, who paid us a visit not long ago, created a piece on one of your constituents' facades without asking? Would you make an exception for Banksy?
Permission has to be granted. I would hope he'd work with a pro-art, progressive alderman like myself, and we could have his art displayed. And he could perhaps even get paid for it.
How would that happen?
Well, I’ve been taking on this issue in two ways: the illegal removal side, and also in promoting spaces for street artists to show their work off and get paid for it. I’m working with various parties to make their walls accessible to street art. Brooklyn Industries also has an initiative for artists to use their exterior wall for street-art purposes that would be traditionally seen as graffiti.
How many of these specially designated wall initiatives have you worked on since becoming alderman?
There’s two right now, and I’m working on two or three others to get permission. But I'd like to expand it. I’m also working with a gallery to do an art installation on the el platform.
Can you tell us more about your graffiti removal efforts?
As for the removal team, I pay for it, not the taxpayers. If the team can reach and paint over the graffiti with the same color, then they do it. If it's too high up to reach, we call the city’s Graffiti Blasters. We get eco-friendly cleaning materials donated, and it’s a volunteer team.
Since I instituted the program we’ve seen a 33 percent reduction in illegal graffiti in the ward. That’s objective evidence from Streets and Sanitation. I’m not saying we've eliminated tagging and graffiti by any means, but i think we've done a good job. There may be other initiatives working with private owners that I'm not aware of.
What about stickering?
I see that as being illegal as well. You have to clean those, especially from signs. They cover up the messages we're trying to convey, whether it's to park or move your car ... they’re hard to remove and illegal.
You studied art in college. Do you still make art?
I still do art. I don't make as much time for it as I used to, but I still enjoy it. If I had the time to do more, I would mostly do woodblock and linoleum prints. It takes a lot of time, though.