Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
One of the city's districts has made street art a central part of its identity.
While American cities spend millions erasing graffiti, one Paris neighborhood is busy embracing it. In recent years, the city’s 20th arrondissement has been deliberately positioning itself as a graffiti mecca. A traditionally working-class district whose population has more recently included immigrants and artists, the 20th is now a few years into a campaign that aims to "develop urban culture at the heart of the neighborhood," meaning graffiti, or as they call it in Paris, le graff.
For graffiti aficionados, the art form represents something of a cultural bridge in a city where tensions between the government and racial minorities have sometimes erupted into high-profile incidents, like the riots of 2005. "Our cultural choices are evidently political choices," said Frédérique Calandra, the mayor of the 20th arrondissement, in a video released last year to celebrate a Europa Graffiti showcase at a local museum. "In France, it’s an art that is often disowned. We want to take it into account, and in doing so, take into account the people who are interested in it, who express themselves through it."
To do so, the 20th has turned an old bus station into a graffiti open-house, coordinated murals on empty walls around the neighborhood, and commissioned a map to help visitors find their way between noteworthy works. They even released a video called "The 20th loves graffiti." (To compare: the Brooklyn Museum was absolutely pummeled for planning to host an exhibit of graffiti last summer. They eventually backed out.) By 2014, the arrondissement will have a community center dedicated to graffiti and music.
Here’s some municipally sanctioned graff from across the pond:
Top image: Flickr user Castorp Republic.