Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Politics and Legalities of Street Art

Last night, I had the distinct pleasure of participating on a panel concerning the legal and policy perspectives on street art. Organized by NYU’s School of Law and their Intellectual Property & Entertainment Law Society (IPELS), the panel consisted of myself and six other prominent individuals, including criminal defense and civil rights lawyer Ron Kuby; Wooster Collective founder and artist Sara Schiller; IP litigator and Sheppard Mullin partner, Ted Max; Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney, John O’Mara; Los Angeles based street artist, X; and moderator and NYU Law Professor, Amy Adler.

The two-hour panel was lively and of course a bit controversial. What are the criminal consequences of tagging, stenciling, spray painting and graffiti? Should “street art” even be considered art or simply another form of cultural production? How are copyright and trademark leveraged to protect or exploit street art? Should street art be covered and protected by the Visual Artists Rights Act? With the increasing number of street artists being represented by art galleries and museum exhibitions, has street art been institutionalized? What is the relationship between street art and gang affiliations, and how do we tell them apart? How do we deal with the racial and class issues inherent in much street art and graffiti, and do criminal sanctions turn on these social issues?

Amy Adler noticed a conceptual thread running through all of the panelists’ presentations, and posed a particularly poignant question that goes to the heart of Clancco: how does law affect the production of culture? With this in mind, the panelists and audience were asked to ponder whether or not we want law to function as a medium.

A good panel always leaves many unanswered questions but plenty of viable options. This was one of them. My sincere thanks to NYU Law, IPELS, and of course Jenna Bass Levy and Megan Chang for the invitation.


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