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Street Artists Transform Community Devastated by Violence Into a Colorful, City-Wide Mural

Drugs and gangs were destroying the Mexican city of Palmitas. So the government decided to fight back—with paint.

El Chapo’s escape might have been a great source of Tweetable entertainment for many Americans, but the country of Mexico continues to struggle with violence. Over 60,000 people, many of them young people, have died due to drug-related violence in just the last decade alone. That’s why the Mexican government recently came up with a small and imaginative solution. In the city of Palmitas, the government hired local street artists “Germen Crew” to repaint 209 houses—that’s 20,000 square meters of façade—and turn an entire town into a big, beautiful, rainbow mural.

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A Graffiti Art Revolution Brings Life to the World’s Deadliest City

In San Pedro Sula, Honduras, graffiti artists and activists are reclaiming their beleaguered home through the power of design.

Artist Rei Blinky is part of a new movement taking back the streets of San Pedro Sula. Image courtesy of the artist.

It’s a popular lament that graffiti artists face dangers from possible arrest to street harassment and muggings, but what about death? Recently, freelance writer Nathaniel Janowitz of Hyperallergic traveled to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, ranked the world’s deadliest city for the fourth year in a row, to shadow a collective of graffiti artists and activists as they tried to reclaim their hometown through design. The medium-sized metropolis of less than 500,000 has a staggering homicide rate of 171 per 100,000 residents—that’s three to four murders per day—which has created a climate of fear few are brave enough to challenge. “Most houses are surrounded by walls with barbwire fences,” says Janowitz. “Locals rarely linger outdoors, and the people you do see standing outside are usually security guards holding shotguns and automatic weapons protecting businesses 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” In an ironic twist, graffiti artists frequently call the police in advance of their tagging to help secure protection against local gangs, many of whom associate graffiti with turf wars. “It’s difficult for street artists; the risks from the Maras are high,” said Baruch, a San Pedrano street artist, in reference to one of the area’s most feared gangs.

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Roving Gang of Grannies Tag Blighted Buildings With Amazing Graffiti

After learning the finer points of spray paint art, these grandmothers took to the streets to show off their newfound skills.

Say the word “Grandma,” and you’re probably not going to think street art. While traditions vary by culture, the art form hasn’t been historically embraced by the grandma community, but some artists want to change that. So Lata 65, a group of Portuguese artists, decided to organize a team of volunteers to teach senior citizen women how to make their own street art.

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Fabian Williams Captures Atlanta’s Friction and Soul

There’s something bubbling in Atlanta.

There’s something bubbling in Atlanta. The music scene is on fire, it seems like more films are being made there than in Hollywood, and there’s a burgeoning arts scene tied into everything. The reason behind that, says artist Fabian Williams, is that Atlanta’s artist community is supportive and open. “Artists definitely cross-pollinate,” says Williams on a phone call from the studio in the basement of his home. “The graffiti muralists mess with the tattoo artists; the tattoo artists mess with the fine artists; the fine artists mess with the muralists; the photographers get down with everybody. There’re really no restrictions. I think that’s what you need for a healthy, robust art community.

Williams has seen the city grow up since he moved back from a brief period in Los Angeles, where he honed many of the skills he employs today as an artist. “I went out to Los Angeles because I got hired to be an illustrator, and then I just got lonely and came back to Atlanta,” he says with a laugh. “I live in Decatur. It’s a ‘gray neighborhood,’ which means it’s black and white. It’s convenient, because I’m 20 minutes from anywhere.”

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The Message-Maker: On the Ground with Baltimore Street Artist GAIA

Internationally acclaimed artist uses painting to reach his city.

The Baltimore city streets are appropriately known for being unforgiving—drugs run rampant, crime is high—but the range of unique ways that people live their lives in the city is extraordinary. There are the infamous 12 O’Clock Boys, for instance, a group of ATV riders who tear through local streets and highways performing stunts atop their four-wheelers. Though living dangerously, their skills are authentic—the 12 O’Clock referring to the ultimate achievement of a completely vertical wheelie. Or there are the arabbers, a group of mostly older African American men who hawk fruit from horse-drawn carts. And yet, as different as these individual sets of people may be, they all comprise one colorful cast of characters that call this city home, inspiring and informing the generations to come.

Street artist Gaia, who moved from Manhattan to attend the Maryland Institute College of Art eight years ago, and simply never left sees the perils, but also the inherent, well, charm of the Charm City streets. “It doesn’t have much industry besides biomedical,” he says, settled in his studio in the still rough Oliver neighborhood. “Besides that we have a booming drug economy. There’s a million interesting sociological phenomenon happening in Baltimore: people fighting for their homes, fighting against displacement, fighting against massive upheaval. It’s something that I strive to keep a pulse on, and if I can lend my services as a painter and a message-maker, to be an advocate for those causes, I do.”

For the most part, Gaia reflects what he sees on Baltimore’s streets onto the walls of the city, often cleverly weaving in portraits of the urban developers who have shaped the way we think about cities and public space—people like Robert Moses and Henry Flagler populate his murals. Baltimore, with its crumbling, post-industrial malaise, Gaia seems to be saying, is the result of civic development, for better or for worse. “No street artist is truly dedicated to the streets unless they also try and understand the different aspects of urban planning, and how we navigate and shape our cities,” says Gaia.

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Best of 2013: Eight Inspiring Examples of Urban Art

We rounded up some of our favorite urban interventions from 2013—both legal and otherwise.

Even though street art is finding its way more and more in the mainstream (Walmart just began selling knock off Banksy posters), it is still being produced in the streets. Many think of urban art and graffiti as beautiful interventions vital to bringing a new lift into both cities and suburban areas. Yet there are some that think the opposite and vilify the medium as vandalism. To counter this view, earlier this year, revered art blog Wooster Collective shared with us the 10 things we can learn from street artists including: "It’s important to take risks; Give without expecting a return; Challenge the norm; Collaboration enhances productivity; Question everything; Creativity is a universal language."

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