Editorial: Street art installations need permission

Was it art or vandalism? In the case of the early June “Greenwood Gallery,” the answer is probably both.

For sure it was vandalism: People painted and pasted on property without the permission of the property owner.

Whether or not it was art is more subjective, but much of it was interesting, engaging, appealing. You can make your own judgment by viewing photos and videos that accompany Bulletin reporter David Jasper’s Sunday report at www.bendbulletin.com/streetart.

The display went up on the walls of the Greenwood Avenue underpass at the parkway and railroad during the predawn hours of June 7, timed to be up for that night’s First Friday Gallery Walk. Within two days it was gone, removed or painted over by youngsters doing community service.

It was the brainchild of artist Julie Friel, who moved to Bend from Florida a year and a half ago and missed the kind of “edgy, urban art that had become a fixture in her former home,” according to Jasper’s account.

The notion of so-called street art has become fashionable across the globe, from London to Berlin to New York to Los Angeles. It can be fun, quirky, challenging, beautiful. Supporters say the temporary displays broaden our exposure to different kinds of art and create forums for artists who might not be displayed in galleries, though many of them probably could be.

We agree. This is a town with a long tradition of public art and a vibrant artistic community. And we’re totally supportive of the notion that temporary, off-beat art installations enhance and strengthen that tradition, broadening access and interest.

But there’s this thing about defacing property. The quality of the work is irrelevant. It could be Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” or Jackson Pollack’s “Mural.” You still need permission if the property isn’t yours.

And we found Friel’s rules about street art disturbing. She told Jasper that street artists wouldn’t post on personal property, churches or mom and pop shops. However, she said “corporations and public spaces belong to the arts.”

Corporations’ property is privately owned. Public spaces belong to all of us, and their use is governed by laws and rules designed to protect the public.

Bend is an art-friendly place, and with the right proposal, chances are excellent that street artists could get permission if they asked. We hope they will.