April 9, 2008

NOLA Rising

I ran across this video today on Wooster, and it struck me on a variety of levels. It's only three and a half (3.5) minutes long. Try to make it through, because I have a thought-provoking question for you after. It's good, I promise.

First, you need to understand that I have a strong bias towards public art. Art, and art appreciation is an amazing part of our lives, and in my opinion, is being threatened by standardized testing (thanks to my dad for this must-watch video), along with many other factors. But that's just the background. The question really has to do with volunteerism.

There is a large camp that says what Micheal (the artist) is doing is an act of volunteerism. A volunteer is someone who serves the purposes of the community because they choose to. The thought with Micheal, and public art everywhere, is that he is serving a community. Specifically with NOLA, a community that has been devastated and on a search for an identity. And while the structural rebuilding of the city is really important, community members need a source of pride, a reason to believe it's worth staying there as well.

There is another camp that strongly believes that what Fred (the painter) is doing is volunteerism. After all, he is serving the community because he chooses to. He is ridding a city of hateful images harming the public good. And that wasn't even sarcastic. I think that graffiti does not have a place in public spaces. But art and graffiti are two very different things. I can definitely see where he is coming from, the Broken Window Theory has at least a shred of viability to it. But all that white paint? Really?

My question is this--> What happens when two different groups of volunteers have colliding efforts, passions, and missions? For instance, there are volunteers that are running the Olympic Torch all over the world, and there are thousands are protesting in one way or another. There are volunteers aiding immigrants and providing life-giving services to a highly-marginalized group of people, while volunteers are patrolling the border in search of illegal activity. Why the disconnect, and can it be fixed? Looking forward to the discussion!

"Contradiction was something I really like when it is embraced in philosophy."
Jim Jarmusch


Anonymous said...

This is a valuable discussion, Sam. I'm interested to see where it leads - hopefully you'll get thoughtful responses.

Rather than seeing it as a "disconnect," I see it as duality. Opposing causes create rich context for our efforts and, in that context, they clarify each other. When a group with a destructive agenda makes a lot of noise, it tends to rouse those who may have otherwise remained passive or apathetic. In that sense, neither side is technically good or bad, but both serve the cause of human evolution.

A good friend of mine is dealing with this same challenge in a project he's running called Casa Segura. It's stirring up a lot of controversy and sparking worthy dialogue regarding border issues like the one you mentioned. See what you think of it.

[Great quote, by the way!]

Caitlin said...

Focusing mainly on this disconnect or duality between volunteers with NOLA rising, I'd be interested to see how much these two "group leaders" I guess we can call them, have actually talked. What is Fred's motive for painting over all the bright and colorful murals and signs with gray? New Orleans is a bright and colorful place; there aren't many plain white or gray houses anywhere. I wonder if there would be a way for these two to work together, finding the more harmful graffiti and painting over that, and letting the NOLA rising artists paint over it with something more inspiring and beautiful. This situation seems to me (in my idealistic little mind) like there could be just some serious miscommunication or crossed wires. Both groups want to help the community that they live in. They are both cleaning up their city; they are both trying to beautify it in their own way. I think with purposeful, polite, and open communication, confrontation, coming together, that they could team together instead of work in discord.

Alan Greenspan said...

I like Nola Rising. Especially with his community involvement. If the two clash, Nola Rising would most likely not be the aggressor, which says a lot. I do not think this needs to be debated, it will follow it's natural course of things; Nola Rising has already found it's way into the heart of that town, it will continue to rise through their hearts to their brains in a logical way to keep it thriving :)

Anonymous said...

I think Nola Rising is bringing hope to a community that really needs it. The community needs color right now. This other guy (can't remember his name now) seems rigid to me. I feel like he wants the community to look like every other city in America. I want to tell him that it's okay for people to be creative and to express themselves through public displays of art. If he's not okay with that, he should move to a place where other people share his favor for plain white walls. But HE should be the one to move. Definitely. Maybe it's because of the way that this video was filmed anyway, but it seems that the director of it is more in favor of public art too. It seems to come from that perspective, even if just subtly. I think both of these guys have good intentions, but really it seems that Nola Rising is meeting the community's need for hope. And hope is more important than that clean crisp look. I know cleanliness is next to godliness and all, but hope is really really important.

Anonymous said...

It's all yin and yang, positive and negative. You can't really have one without the other....

That's the beauty of this country and sometimes it's curse. The beauty of it is when it opens up the lines of communication and opposing sides can talk and deal with issues. You will never have complete agreement, but you can work towards cooperation.

Ruth said...

The issue of communication between opposing parties is very intresting to me. It's such a simple question to ask whether or not these two men have talked, but the answer, I think, changes a lot about the story. I think most of us watching the video could come up with some ideas about how these two men could collaborate and/or compromise.... whether or not that has been attempted we don't know.

This seemly simple situation (who wouldn't want clean, vibrant art over sloppy, grey paint?) makes me think about what seem like more complicated controversies the Sam mentioned: education, immigration, etc. If communication is difficult in small scale controversies, how much more would it be in larger ones?

Unfortunately it seems that people are more interested in acting before even attempting communication. People tend talk to clean up messes, not to avoid them.

Maybe we are losing the art of conversation, because it isn't taught or valued in public life in a useful way... although bullshit is becoming an art form in itself (not sure where that is getting us).

Quinn Patrick Kelly said...

It seems like "Fred" is being misrepresented here. I'm sure if he had an opportunity he might explain his purpose a little better. He didn't get an opportunity in this video. He is being portayed as the big fat art killer in this video. I can't imagine there would be an "operation cleansweep" if graffiti wasn't a huge problem there. Maybe there is a reason for the grey paint. Maybe they can't simply pick and choose what they paint over and what they don't. It might be an all or nothing kind of deal. How do they define what is graffiti and what is art? Who defines that? We'll never know until we ask.

Videos like this seem counterproductive to resolution. Only talking is just as destructive as never listening. In the video "Fred" doesn't get a chance to speak at all. Of course we hate Fred after that video. They make Fred seem rigid and imply that he is responsible for Nola Risings possible fines. At one point they say Fred "probably considers (art) vertical litter". He may not think that at all. Nola Rising wouldn't need to guess if they would have asked. Conflict becomes difficult to resolve when there is a "good guys, bad guys" mentality.

Perhaps the people at Nola Rising instead of saying "I cannot let the city be grey", should ask the question "why do you use grey paint? and how can we enter the dialogue to find another solution?" Then listen carefully and thoughtfully to the response. People can perpetuate conflict by never empathizing with the other party. This has to be true for both parties, even artists.

Michael Dingler said...

WOW- Lots of good points are brought up, both in the posting and the responses and hopefully I can answer that as I am the person in that video.

The video was done by a local news station, wdsu.com, and the buffer mentioned in the story was given the opportunity to respond but refused to do an interview because it included NoLA Rising. It was not out of shyness because he has called this exact news stations for stories to his benefit many times and tightly controls the nature of the interviews when they occur. So, it certainly not that the news was biased or one-sided...amazingly, this news story finally made the story balanced.

I will admit, it was not flattering, but the Buffer discussed in the video has had some very untrue, unflattering and has downright assaulted my character to members of the press in hopes they would print his 'misconceptions."

Of the more trivial, he has said that I was not a former Marine and that I was someone who moved to New Orleans after hurricane Katrina to do what we New Orleanians are calling disaster-profiteering. To counter, I produced both my Honorable Discharge from the USMC and my birth certificate without another word of it.

Of the more scandalous, he has told members of the press that i was a loser, a degenerate and the biggest pain in the ass he's ever met. In addition, he said I associate with criminals and likened me to a member of the church of satan. And, on point to some of y'alls inquiries...I have never met this man other than when he arrived at an art festival with a police officer to have me cited for the fines in question presented in the news story.

Even then, he did not stay to meet me. He pointed me out to the police and scurried away. Early on, I called him after finding his number online to try and discuss these issues with him. He has never returned my call. In a news story to print media here in New Orleans, he HAS made the statement that he considers my artwork vertical litter that leads to "other crime".

Ironically, instead of removing the signs that are so egregious to him, he paints over them with grey paint...then begging the question of whether or not what he does is thereby considered graffiti. A local t-shirt company has started making shirts that say, "grey is graffiti." He admitted in prior interviews that he uses the grey paint so that 'taggers' will know who he is...thus making him, under the exact same city ordinance a graffiti artist by definition.

He has become increasingly confrontational as a result of this being pointed out and has, through comments he's made to the press, made subtle innuendos about there many ways there are to teach me a lesson. The most notable was to the city's business magazine where he said he would use all of his connections to financially cripple me. I can't help but laugh at this, as I am merely an artist and my resources are but nearly nonexistent. I thank him for the effort.

On my own personal block where I live, he made a point of painting over the signs and removable artwork that many members of my neighborhood community got together and painted. (to include street signs when the city had yet to replace them after the storm). He did so three times in a span of two weeks and it now appears he has made it a regular them to make my neighborhood (which is not his neighborhood) a constant target for his painting.

I may add that he drives in from the suburbs to an artistically active area to do this, often with police protection because, as he's recently admitted, he's scared of people who take pictures of him.

But it's not just graffiti and artwork that is his specialty. He's lobbied City Hall some years ago to increase the cost of public murals by almost a thousand dollars, making it harder for people to make murals. He has been extremely confrontational with business owners, misrepresented the facts of the law to those business owners, and will go and paint over their property at night even if he disagrees with them (as reported to me by a local business owner).

As for the graffiti and how he started, I can't say that I would disagree with his initial intentions some years ago. However, over time, he has seemingly become a megalomaniac that feels he is above the law, knows what is in the best interest of people not in his immediate community and confrontational with those who disagree with him. When he did begin his crusade, it was eleven years ago when there was a surge of gang-like graffiti in the area, but it has since subsided and the graffiti has become a more perpetual problem in that it is a matter of middle class kids fighting a war specifically against this man dubbed the grey ghost.

If anything, it is our assertion that he has perpetuated the problem where kids will retaliate when one of their pieces are hit. Any of the public walls that were once available, he has repeatedly destroyed, thereby forcing the movement further underground and making it more of a challenge. He has helped lobby to make it harder for such walls to exist...thus rebellion grows. He doesn't see it this way. He sees it as a war and business owners who get angry over it are collateral damage. According to a former employee of one year of his, he believes he was sent here by God to rid New Orleans of graffiti.

As for the Broken Windows Theory that he subscribes to, it is understandably out of date and if his methods have shown us here in New Orleans...doesn't lead to less crime. As his own numbers and statistics have shown, by the Broken Windows theory (THEORY, mind you), crime should have decreased as the more rampant of his painting over graffiti has increased. Ironically, but not so for us having to deal with it, as his "cleansing" has increased, so has crime...but more, so has graffiti. And not the good pretty kind either.

The kids who are spurned on and dislike this buffer's means no longer want to put the time and effort into a nice mural-like piece because it will get covered inside of a week. Instead, and to further prove their frustration and point, they'll go around town and put up scratch tags with little artistic merit...just to show him that his efforts are fruitless.

I have publicly applauded the 'grey ghost' in his initial efforts of trying to limit gang activity in its early phases well over a decade ago, but there is rarely gang activity of much relevance here. Most of our violence is neighborhood based and has become progressively worse as the cultural boundaries between neighborhoods are destroyed and housing facilities are destroyed to make room for gentrified living.

What I cannot applaud, though, is that he has never made an effort to find a meaningful replacement for the grey paint. He claims that he would like to buy pressure washers to clean the work, but that they are too expensive. Meanwhile, he has taken a $34,000 grant from Freeport-McMoran. Some business owners say that he has approached them and offered to sell them a chemical solution that will clean graffiti and his acrylic grey primer. If he has such a solution that will clean graffiti, why does he need the grey paint?

Clearly, the movement in New Orleans is toward the trend of calling into question his methods...something that City Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson has finally pointed out.

NoLA Rising has nothing to do with this man professionally and given his treatment of people, it doesn't seem likely that any relationship will foster out of this disagreement. I'll be more than glad to employ him as someone who primes the wall of our city's future murals when we finally clear some of these legal hurdles that he's created, but ultimately, I don't see it happening. According to several members of the local press, he has a deep and intense hatred for me...of which bears no consequence to me or the goals of NoLA Rising.

The last time I made an effort to communicate with the buffer, it was to kindly call and tell him that he does what he does...I do what I do and we're clearly never going to see eye to eye on it...and that if he comes to my neighborhood again, to please not spill his unsightly grey paint on my neighbors car...like he did. Then again, I'm sure he just saw it as collateral damage.

There has been no misrepresentation here or in the news video. I will put some links to the city's local business paper for those who may be interested in reading further.

In the days, weeks and even months after the storm, many of us didn't even feel like we had hope. We didn't feel a part of anything and we felt a huge neglect from the federal government. Literally, many of us were left with nothing. No family pictures, no grandmother's relics, no childhood trinkets... So, what's a boy to do when he's lost but try and make the best of the world he's living in and hope that it makes it better for other people living there too?

All I did was think that if I could touch one person with my messages of hope for the everyday person living the everyday life in a destroyed city, then it would be worth it. Little did I know that it would end up touching countless peoples' lives. And for each and every person who has a positive story to tell me about how my signs have helped them, I'd take a fine for every one out of sheer principle. The fact that someone would be punished in a way that they know how to do for the good they put into the world is the greatest travesty of any society...

I hope this has helped clear up any questions or points of interest. Here are some links that may help clarify some other more tedious points starting with the most recent:




Drunah said...

Hi –
I live in New Orleans, briefly lived in Phoenix and would go to First Friday’s out there.

I don’t know much about art, nor graffiti art. I know what I like to surround myself with and what creates beauty for my eye.

I don’t know Fred; I’ve never met him nor seen him. I don’t think he gets down to my neighborhood as much as others. I have seen his grey paint and it never occurred to me that it was one man doing this.

After the storm we lived in trying times and there were no street signs. The first time I saw the Nolarising art was the street signs. I was so thankful that someone was making street signs, not only with the street name, but they were colorful signs too. We needed hope to survive here, we still need hope.

The one thing that is difficult to explain is that we don’t really have gangs here. We have neighborhoods and neighborhood crime. I tend to think that most New Orleanians have a fierce pride of their neighborhoods and we’re quite obsessed with our city, and that was long before a storm came.

I don’t see how Fred covering up tags on street signs, covering stop signs or no parking signs or the windows of buildings is helping when there are other methods of removing such tags. Why would you want to cover grey on historical properties that are made of such beautiful colors?

I do know a lot about gangs and tagging because I grew up in Oceanside, California, in a bad neighborhood at a time when gangs and tagging was out of control. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2008/feb/20/cover/
New Orleans is not a place that has those kind of problems, we have a lot of others, like poverty, literacy, muggings, and shootings.

To live in a city that was 80% destroyed takes a lot of strength, and requires a lot of hope and a lot of passion. The Nolarising signs remind you of why you’re here and why it’s worth fighting for and they’re removable art. If it touches your life, you can take it with you and I know so many people who have done just that, including me.

The first I heard of any controversy over the Nolarising project was when the articles in the media started coming out that Fred had convinced the city to bring fines against Michael, which I did not understand.

I went to my first Nolarising paint party this year. The paint parties are free for anyone to come to. You can bring some wood and some paint or borrow from other people and create a message. I don’t know how to draw, and I’m quite embarrassed of my art skills. I went to the paint party with friends, not planning on painting anything because I felt I had no skills. I was just there to hang out.

Everyone down there was so nice and everyone kept encouraging me to make a sign, finally I gave in. The experience there was all of these New Orleanians painting on tables down by the river, messages of hope and words that represent why we love our city. I thought to myself; “In what other city would people come together like this to make signs about how much they love where they live?”

It was a really moving experience. Later, I found out someone had taken a picture of my sign and that it had moved them and I thought I had no art skills.

Fred seems to be an angry person who has made contact with him frightening for some, read the City Business articles. I’m not sure how you can encourage dialogue and some sort of peace with this situation. If Fred is out there reading these things, perhaps he could open his mind to new ways of thinking. I’m sure we could find a grant to get the supplies to remove the tagging properly and supply him with it and get him whatever training needed to use such tools. Perhaps Nolarising and Fred could do a project together, two sides coming together, which would just send out another message of unity for our city. However, Fred has to be willing to embrace such things and I’m not sure that’s possible.

That said, I just recently met Michael Dingler and while I don’t know him well, he’s a very easy person to talk to and general nice guy and I like what he’s done for this city, inspired us all to seek out positive messages and lots of color in days that can sometimes seem gray.

Anonymous said...

I'm the photojournalist that shot and edited this video, and unfortunately I didn't include the anchors intro or tag out to this story. If I would have you all would have know that Fred was contacted several times in attempt to speak on camera about his opinions on this issue. Not only did he decline but he also hung up on me... I attempted again to contact Fred thinking that maybe he didn't understand what I was saying to him. I explained that this story was to air on WDSU and that it would be in his best interest to give his opinion. Fred was given the chance to speak, he declined. I need to make that clear.
I'm glad that you all see the need for this to be discussed further. I felt the need to tell the story.

Crista Rock

the phenomenal kristen gee said...

i live in the irish channel and like to consider myself part of the nola rising community. it is an eight-block walk from my house to the restaurant i work at. you can't look *anywhere* on that stretch of magazine without seeing these gray blobs. it's really intrusive.

while i can see the point of fred's work on a very basic level, he's clearly taken this very personally and has been covering up things that obviously have nothing to do with gangs, or even art. *nothing* is safe - from 'apartment for rent' signs to 'garage sale' flyers to someone trying to find their lost cat. it doesn't just hinder the art community - it hinders the community as a whole.

George "Loki" Williams said...

Hellooooo Arizona!

I'm Loki, I run a team blog called HumidCity that includes writer from a variety of New Orleans neighborhoods and socioeconomic strata. I have been involved in the Art and Music scene in this city on both a professional and on a grassroots basis for lose to twenty years.

The problem that we are seeing here is not just opposing views of the correct way to serve the community via volunteer work. The issue, even more so since the deluge, is the increasingly abusive and sometimes violent approach of Mr. Radtke.

Since this video was put out he has finally managed to get some attention by buffing the side of a Magazine St coffeeshop. When told to stop by the young lady at the counter he was threatening and abusive. I would offer quotes but I don't like putting F bombs in someone's comment queue.

Search through some of the locally based media and blogs. I know there are several post by different bloggers on HumidCity alone, and I am aware of dozens more.

Citibusiness has taken an interest and there are several good articles archived on their site, including one about the recent incident at Mojo (the Magazine St coffeehouse referenced above).

While I am not a fan of the folk art style of NoLA Rising, I vastly prefer it to the grey blobs. The way I see it though this is not a matter of aesthetics. It has become a matter of street level aggresion that contravenes law during a period when enforcement is curtailed due to lack of manpower/desire to prosecute.

Selective application of the law is always dangerous.

Anonymous said...

It is great to see that this problem is being disscused by more than just locals. First off i can not understand how someone can honestly say that graf is not art. are you the authority on what is and what is not art? graffiti art has been very influintal on so many diffrent levels in modern socioty, from product advertisement and logos to clothing lines and illistrations. anyway my point is that just because someone is not totatly into that style of art dose not mean that it is not art. large architectural sculpture is not my thing but it may lite your fire. this is a very large world filled with all diffrent types of art, people, what have you and, in my opinion, there is a place for everything.
as for the buff, i have had the dis-plesure of having him trespes on my private property on 3 seperate occasions to paint over murals that apparently he did not care for. on the second accasion i happened to be painting and he accused me of commiting illegal criminal acts. for painting murals on my on property! i told him to leave that he was trespassing and he proceeded to threten and photograph me and my friends.
so no i wold not say that a man that has made it his personal mission to single handedly rid the city of "gang related" graffiti should have absolute power and athority to destroy public and personal property just because it is his mission from 'his god'. the statement that fred radtke has become the most recognised graffiti artist in nola is not far fetched. that is in effect what he has become just as mr. dingler satates, he uses the same color grey to go over the graf so that the writers will know that it is he that went over them. very disrespectful and sometimes dangerous to do in graffiti culture.
basicly i think that fred has done about as much good for the city as he can. and that it is time for a new solution to this never ending problem. the more he paints the more they paint. the artists truly do hate the buff and make it as difficult as they can for him to do his 'job'.
who's going to stop fred radtke?

nola usa

Anonymous said...

I want to be upfront that I, too, am biased towards public art, art in general and Michael Dingler. I'm a long, long way from NOLA, but became involved in my long-distance way last fall after exchanging a number of emails with Dingler in which we discussed public art and his ideas which were to become NOLA Rising.

Your question is a really good one, and I've been turning it over in my head all day. You offered some great examples, and living in Arizona keeps the immigration debate at the tip of my everyday world.

Where the debate in New Orleans is concerned, I bristle a bit at the labeling of Fred as a volunteer. His original intent and action may have been steeped in a sense of community and may have called from within him the duty to "volunteer" to clean up his city and keep any criminal influences at the extreme fringes of society, away from the mainstream.

To my knowledge (which is based on reading articles and watching clips from NOLA), Fred receives public monies in the form of grants to fund his efforts. In my view, his status as volunteer has ended, and he is now a contractor for the city.

Semantics aside, his original intention was likely born out of a frustration of seeing his neighborhood tagged and visually assaulted. I see that in my own community and it physically hurts. It's hard to believe that there is such little regard for my neighborhood that it's become a battleground for rival "troops" of ne'er-do-gooders...so I can empathize. But his actions have become perverted by his ego and this quest to be THE right answer to the question of "where is our street/neighborhood/city/world headed?!"

There has been such a large response against his actions, largely from those who have come to see NOLA Rising as a better answer to that same question. And since Fred isn't willing, or at least hasn't been inclined to share his perspective, it seems there is an easy way in which to proceed.

If you've seen the pictures of his particular brand of vandalism, I'm not sure how anyone could disagree that Fred's actions no longer serve the public good. He paints over street signs, creating what may easily become a liability nightmare for the city. He paints on private property. He seems to be out of control, letting his rage and ego double up for a one-two punch in the face of a group of citizens that seems to want real change.

NOLA Rising and its many, many participants and fans have mobilized and are making it known to the powers that be that their action is more in line with the identity of the city's population. How much simpler does it get than giving the majority opinion the opportunity to lead?

And even as I write all this, I wonder if I shouldn't just go in a different direction. Not that I'd change my mind about the issue because that's not what I'm talking about. But why do I feel compelled to speak at length and devote my attention to the negative component of this situation? Why am I not offering a glowing (perhaps kool-aid inspired) "review" of NOLA Rising? I don't have a good answer, which is to say I can't quite articulate it. But from 2000 miles away, I can say that I feel somewhat victimized by the errant disrespect that Fred flaunts throughout a city where I've never set foot. And yet, I feel like New Orleans is (or could be) a home away from home.

Or maybe it's simpler than that. Maybe I want to be involved in a movement, something which is born from frustration and despair but has become a source of hope and happiness for an entire city whose nation long ago turned its attention elsewhere.

Thank you for posing the question and inviting a response...I'm sure I'll be working on this issue for some time.

bj said...

The difference between the two "volunteers" is intent. As I understand it, Fred's agenda has evolved in the last few years. He perhaps served a purpose when tagging was becoming a problem in an historic area of NO. But now he is selling his anti-graffiti cleaner and is in fact creating more need for his own product. Michael's intent, on the other hand, is purely altruistic. His art is more than a piece of wood with a simple word painted on it. It is a process of personal expression to be shared with a city whose psyche is injured. The process continues when citizens view the work, react and respond to it. No wonder the NolaRising project is snowballing. The positive energy alone is contagious. Can the two sides ever come together to dialogue? How can one reason with the unreasonable? Each side must first respect each other's opinion even if they don't agree

The Girl from Mozambique said...

In my many volunteer endeavors I have found there is one characteristic volunteers have: a personal agenda filled with enough passion that fuels however many hours of unpaid work they produce. Oftentimes that personal agenda is inflexible and may clash with someone else's. Resolution comes when these agendas transcend the needs of the individual volunteers.