Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, August 04, 2017

I don't see much to celebrate in the legacy of Cool Disco Dan

cool disco danCool Disco Dan, Danny Hogg, was a graffiti tagger in DC, very active in the 1980s, and he recently died ("'A folk hero': D.C. street art legend Cool 'Disco' Dan dies at 47," Washington Post).

There is a documentary on him, which ran recently on one of the HDTV channels of ABC7 in Washington.  In honor of his death, the Anacostia Community Museum is showing the documentary later today.
Friday 2pm- 4pm
Joe Pattisal’s 2014 documentary film, The Legend of Cool “Disco” Dan, narrated by DC native, Henry Rollins and featuring testimonials from Marion Barry, Chuck Brown, DC Scorpio, Reverend Walter Fauntroy and other influential voices from the 1980s.
As a person concerned with commercial district revitalization, I am torn about graffiti. Graffiti is seen as a detriment by many in terms of perceptions of community safety.

There is a difference between mere "tagging" and artistic expression/commentary/innovation. Graffiti tagging is different from murals and other similar kinds of public art, although I can let slide some graffiti, if put more on interstitial spaces, it is particularly creative or commentary.

If it isn't anything but a tag/name, how does it contribute to community, rather than an individualist expression that mars the built environment?

See this 2003 Post report, "2 Charged With Graffiti: Md. Men Spray-Painted in Much of D.C., Officials Say," on graffiti damage on H Street NE.

The same issue came up with "the work" of Borf, which was focused on tagging, not political expression, although there was one particular daring example of the tagging of a highway sign on Constitution Avenue ("The Mess That's Hard To Miss," 2007).

I dealt with a similar problem as a Main Street manager in Brookland in 2007, when multiple buildings were tagged similarly, including the former Newton Theater, now landmarked.

Banksy, now that's another story. cf. the documentary on the competition between "Banksy" and "Robbo," called Graffit Wars."
Emailing: banksy3gal
Banksy graffiti painted on the border wall demarcating the West Bank-Israel border.

In fact today there are new reports of Banksy painting again on this wall, showing President Trump's love of walls ("Trump graffiti on West Bank barrier mocks love of walls: Artwork resembles work of elusive artist Banksy; one image has US president wearing a skullcap, vowing to construct ‘a brother’ for the barrier," Times of Israel).

Or the "graffiti crews" that have migrated to large scale public art projects infused by graffiti, e.g., a neighborhood scale mural in Bogota, Colombia.

I don't see much value or anything heroic in the work of Cool Disco Dan from that perspective.

It does remind me of the narrative of "Chopper" in the A.D. 2000/Judge Dredd comic series from the early 1980s, of graffiti being a way to make a mark in an otherwise atomized society.

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At 8:04 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

A little embarrassing, apparently I wrote something similar in 2013.

At 8:55 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Nostalgia, rewriting history so urban decay was really just ploughing the fields, and sadness that someone at 47 would die of diabetes (despite having free medical care).

what has the urban culture of DC produced in the second half of the 20th century? Go-go? mambo sauce? Disco Dan? Ben's Chili Bowl? Jim Vance?

granted that is a lot more than the white people did in the same time (St Elmo's Fire).

At 1:10 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I saw part of documentary a month a go or so, and I looked up an article about him. Apparently he had mental health issues, which was why his domicile and physical issues were problematic. He died of complications from diabetes likely because of that.

wrt cultural contributions, ... I never head of mambo sauce til a few years ago when WETA had some radio shows (before they dropped them all) and the new commentator who moved back to DC talked about mambo sauce. Of course I didn't know about it as why would I ever go to a Chinese restaurant to order chicken wings?

But there are some entrepreneurship and other music related activites. I just don't listen to that kind of music...

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At 10:19 AM, Blogger Mari said...

Nostalgia maybe and his tags were a familiar and non-threatening part of the DC environment in the 90s.
I remember when a co-worker had gone on a long vacation and we (her co-workers) decorated her otherwise neat desk with all sorts of things, including a Cool "Disco" Dan tag. It is a fond but fading memory from my life in DC in the late 1990s. I'm guessing others have their own stories, and that is why there is all this to-do with Cool "Disco" Dan.


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