Marc Ecko, fashion designer and creator of the upcoming graffiti inspired Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure from Atari, has found himself in the middle of a feud with New York City Mayor Bloomberg after NYC revoked Ecko's permit to hold a Getting Up Block Party. Ecko said today that he intends to file a federal lawsuit against Bloomberg and the city for compromising his First Amendment interests.
"Graffiti destroys quality of life"
Bloomberg took issue with the block party after City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) objected to the graffiti theme; Ecko planned to feature graffiti artists creating murals on replicas of subway cars, but Vallone and the Mayor believe that sort of activity will only encourage vandalism of the city's real subways. The permit was revoked on the grounds that it was not really an art exhibition but a commercial event to promote Ecko's video game.
"The city isn't obligated to permit an event on a public street that encourages the vandalism of subway cars in the name of selling T-shirts and video games," Bloomberg spokesman Ed Skyler said in a statement. "The courts should uphold our ability to protect New York City's quality of life."
"Graffiti is just one of those things that destroys our quality of life, and why anybody thinks that it's funny or cute to encourage kids to go do that, I don't know. We have talked to them and asked them to not have a subway car motif to write graffiti. This is not really art or expression. This is - let's be honest about what it is - it's trying to encourage people to do something that's not in anybody's interest," said Bloomberg.
Celebrating an art form
Ecko, on his personal blog, defended his right to hold the block party and the notion that graffiti is indeed a form of art. In his open letter to NYC, Ecko said, "Unfortunately the spirit of the event, as it was originally conceived and as it has been presented to the appropriate civic groups and government officials since November 2004, seems to have been lost in the haste to stereotype all graffiti-style artists as 'vandals' and to brand this event as a 'promotion of crime.'"
"At its core, this is an event designed to celebrate an art form born from the streets of New York over two decades ago as a means of creative self expression, allowing the public a unique chance to experience the workmanship and skill that go into creating a piece of art fine enough to hang on the walls of any traditional gallery or museum. Upon completion, a 48 foot mural will be donated to The Point, a Bronx-based nonprofit youth development organization, while the remaining nine will be placed throughout the city for public display."
Ecko also argues that graffiti is a genuine part of NYC's history and should be celebrated as such. "I am well aware that drawing graffiti in public places is a crime, and I do not condone or encourage it. At the same time, however, graffiti is a legitimate and historical part of the great art history of our city. The visual dialect is alive and well, and contrary to the opinion of certain elected officials, just because you draw on paper that way doesn't mean that you are writing on walls. That is the dialect that these artists and others like them dream through, that informed their creative energy so early on and helped them to go on to become a muralist, a film maker, a story teller, and even a clothing designer," he said.
Mayor Bloomberg, however, isn't buying the freedom of expression argument. "Look, there is a fine line here between freedom of expression and going out and encouraging people to hurt this city. Defacing subway cars is hardly a joke," he said.
Atari dealing with scrutiny
Both Ecko and his upcoming video game have come under fire lately from politicians and anti-graffiti lobbyists. Ray Empson, president of Keep America Beautiful (KAB), recently said that the game "attempts to make criminal and dangerous behavior enticing to children." KAB and the National Council to Prevent Delinquency have been warning city council members, mayors, and police officers to be on the lookout for "increased property crime by juveniles" when Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure ships later this fall.
For its part, Atari reminded the public that the game is just that. "Just as popular films and television shows present fictionalized entertainment depicting stories, cultures, characters and actions that may be exaggerated versions of 'real-life' people or events, video games such as Getting Up provide amusement and escape in a fantasy world where players can vicariously experience different lifestyles and mock activities," the publisher said in a statement.