Keep Johnson City Beautiful halts Graffiti in the downtown area with the third annual Urban Art Throwdown last month. The annual Urban Art Throwdown takes place during the Blue Plum Festival to raise awareness of graffiti in Johnson City, and discourage graffiti while encouraging the artistic value of the works. A foundational idea of the Urban Art Throwdown is that the difference between graffiti and art is permission. The Throwdown is constructed of twenty-four graffiti artists who register for free to participate in a graffiti competition. They are provided canvases, paint, tops, and masks and are directed on the theme of their artwork. The first, second, and third place artworks receive cash prizes. In addition, the winning pieces of the Urban Art Throwdown are displayed in downtown Johnson City. Another component featured is a Recycled Materials Art Contest. The Recycled Materials Art Contest consisted of fine art created from recycled materials such as paper, plastic, cardboard, glass, aluminum, tin, and scrap metal. The competition of recycled art also rewards winners with cash prizes.
The approach to address graffiti is unique and quite different than other methods such as hosting cleanups of graffiti or school discussions for its reduction. This artistic approach required more effort and thought. It invests the community’s interests. By hanging the canvases downtown, people respect the artworks and the artists, which discourages graffiti in those areas and other areas as well. The Throwdown supports Keep Tennessee Beautiful’s mission to educate and engage citizens. People were engaged in the competition because it is incredible to watch creation of the artworks, and it was free to the public to come and watch. Additionally, people were educated at the Throwdown because there was a booth present at the competition where people learned about the effects of graffiti on the community, the recycling services of Johnson City, and about Keep Johnson City Beautiful itself.
Many of the artists return each year to compete in the Urban Art Throwdown. There are bleachers setup on the site of the competition, and friends come to watch as well as people attending the Blue Plum Festival. It is rewarding for the artists to have their talents recognized, and it provides a place for their art to be created constructively rather than destructively. They have the opportunity to be paid for their work in a sense. Their efforts are poured into something that people admire, unlike graffiti which is most often vandalism. Some artists have made connections through the competition and will work for art camps in an educational setting. The Urban Art Throwdown successfully addresses the need to protect public places from graffiti in an event that can continue to grow and sustain itself, and that benefits the artists directly. They are more likely to respond to the Urban Art Throwdown because their interests are taken into account.