"Thanks be to Banksy," says Vista Mayor Art Krittick. And with good reason. Just weeks after the British graffitist thrilled New York City with a month-long spree of street art that turned ordinary buildings into impromptu galleries (and concrete into cash for the lucky owners), the City of Vista has taken a page out of his book and found a way to make street art pay.
"For months now," explains Krittick, "Selik and Slik" — the noms de plume of Pedro Luis Padilla and a 15-year-old who was not named because of his age — "have run around Vista, tagging every flat surface they could find. Those two rascals marked up nearly 1000 locations. We took bids for cleaning up their mess, and the lowest of them came in at $275,000. That kind of expense puts a crimp in the ol' community arts budget, let me tell you."
But where there's a community of wealthy collectors with a shared anxiety about cultural authenticity, there's a way. "Actually, it was Pam in HR who had the idea," says Krittick. "She was looking at that one Banksy where the boy is spraypainting 'Ghetto 4 Life' on the wall, and his butler is standing next to him with the spray cans on a serving tray, and it hit her. There's worry about the mainstreaming, about the cultural appropriation of street art. Banksy is a celebrity now. Hell, ever since Exit Through the Gift Shop, he's a movie star. There's cash involved, and so people are looking for action. So when you see street art in some art-savvy city, you have to wonder, 'Is it real, or is it the work of some trust-fund Cooper Union dropout who's trying to latch onto a trend?' That's what Bansky was getting at with 'Ghetto 4 Life.'"
Krittick paused before concluding, "I just hope this doesn't give kids the idea that it's okay to deface public property. That would be terrible."