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A felony for him a sentence for you

OTWG is a non-profit dedicated to developing underserved artists into educated cogent creators poised to change the world through their creativity.

This is what we do day to day with very savvy street goers who know the compelling feeling of owning the night at an early age, usually because no one is looking in their bedrooms at night to see that they are asleep. But we know and like a second set of eyes and ears we watch and listen for their safety and sanity. When they come to us, they are ready for something else and they aren’t ever sure what that is, but they are drawn to us and demand our attention because they crossed our gates, like a moth to a flame of good and we have about the time a moth finds another flame to grab their attention.

The fundamental thing that we strive to do is to connect these dudes to their ID. What is their purpose and what are they trying to say and to whom? We want their art to surpass their need to be seen by their name alone. We want them connected to their social good, their true form of expression and their highest form of mastery. But we have some steep competition to make what we offer compelling, especially when the most well known street artists still break free in the streets as adults, rules be damned. Most notably to date is the OBEY master himself, Shepard Fairey.

Fairey is known to quote or say, “The medium is the message.” I will admit to being a little confused by this catch phrase, but looking at his actions most recently in Detroit which have him wanted for vandalism with felony charges awaiting his return, one can surmise that his message is, “I can wheat paste wherever I damn well please, and oh by the way, it’s me, Shepard doing it.” He wheat pasted at least 12 walls with his signature Andre The Giant face. It’s known as the lead image for his OBEY brand, which sells thousands of tee shirts annually.

His signature face, wheat pasted on walls qualifies as EGO based art, and in that way, by definition, not very interesting to OTWG. But here’s the rub – he wins. In every way. And so does street art, graffiti or illegal acts of posting your artwork.

Now here’s another rub. I want people to follow the rules and behave – and I love it when they don’t. I am a rebel and my cause is to support that which causes change for the good. And there are many cases where I think illegal work does that. There are times when I say spirit trumps rules, like when someone from a crew dies and is remembered posthumously in the streets. Or where I say boundaries need pushing. Honestly, if our kids understood that any better they would be ready to fly the nest.

Clever is what we want. Clever, clear, cogent communication. And that is where I think Shepard can play with his ego image all he wants because he has mastered clever, clear, cogent communication with his design work. He has given his time over to tsunami relief and presidential elections – he even almost had his Studio Number One design agency design our logo but personally declined me to my face over a turntable, but said to “reach out” after his trial and he would “help us somehow” – AND THEY DID. His team is small and tight and honest. His intentions are to stay true to who he always was but there is also a difference. He didn’t start as a tagger, he started slapping stickers in college. Innocently joining a band movement which is deep in the roots of rock ‘n roll. He got traded and made popular by a fluke of timing and hip graphics. He designed a brand that was posing as a sticker. He was meant to be this guy and he has carried that weight very well. When he decides to dip into the streets – and there is nothing unintentional about it – he gets to.

There is an unfortunate truth for the youth that I will bring up now and that is, “You don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” Shepard makes very calculated risks on behalf of his family, his brand and his pocketbook. He is a brilliant business man, even if his currency started as a sticker. He is a fantastic graphic designer whose art will go into the history of graphic and illustrative design. He wins.

Our kids though, they see him and align with him or not but they see someone who does what they do and they feel validated and elevated because in the streets they are the same. They can show up on the same surface using the same wheat paste. HOWEVER, and this is the hardest part, they will suffer much greater consequences than he when caught. Their paths will get far more entangled than his ever did. He was at Rhode Island School of Design, one of the most prestigious art schools around when he began his sojourn into the streets. He was well into his future already. And he is white and privileged and smart.

Our kids will stumble and get tracked and shut out of that path once they hit the courts. They will see a future behind everyone who was in their class the day before they got caught and they will justify it and call false bravado to it in order to remain on the level of Shepard. Because in their street, when they were doing it, they were equal with everyone. And there are some greats out there.

We give them nothing more than that. We give them nothing more than what they can make of themselves after we put them in jail for doing what makes them feel awesome.

So when Shepard gets caught, it keeps the street game alive that much more and perpetuates the cause. And here is the final rub, at least when he does that, we grab these dudes feeling high about their experience with the greats – it’s our job to harness that feeling and throw it Off The Wall as dynamically as we can so they get the other feelings that Shepard has of selling their artwork for thousands of dollars, run their own design agency, have their own merchandise licensed and go to one of the best art schools around.

It’s our job to take their high horse feelings, direct them toward canvas and creation in an elevated way so they can surpass the system and end up ahead with their EGOS and ID intact. We are the only organization that tries to do this. We are the only one who sees the dynamic of both sides and wants to create ways for them to feel that great about who they are in any medium – get the message?

Maybe one of our guys will tell a truth in their own way in the streets so that society hears it loud and clear that they came to make change. Maybe one of our guys will travel the world painting murals and selling internationally. Maybe someone will put plexiglass over one of our kid’s art and call his building more valuable. I am not in support of vandalism, but I do see the art of expression coming to fight the good fight and I am okay with it.