Picture this

Apollo Sunflower God, Fab-5 graffiti on the Rialto in Tacoma. Photo courtesy of Fab-5

Graffiti.  What is the first thing that comes to mind when you see or hear that word?  Probably for most people, whatever comes to mind is something negative, with corresponding words such as “defacing” and “vandalism.”  Private structures and public buildings, everything from dumpsters to boxcars, have been targets.

But picture this: A brick wall that faces an alley just off 6th Avenue is defaced by graffiti.  The owner of the building feels disadvantaged because every time he responds to the city’s requirement to get rid of the graffiti, the brick wall is again a target.  The owner contacts Fab-5, an urban art group he has heard of.  They have some artists ready, willing and able to turn that wall into a work of art.  They successfully meet the challenge and since that time six years ago, the art changes twice a year, but only within certain artistic bounds.

Picture this: Five years later, the west-facing wall of the Rialto Theater, 9th and Market, is painted.  A colorful mural/graffiti has a huge, stylized flower centered at the top and the rest of the painted wall is anchored by expressive graffiti.  This seven-day wonder, named “Apollo the Sunflower God” and created in August of 2010, is a spectacular result of the work and training of Fab-5.  That is, its Leadership Strategy Team and teaching artists gave local youth the tools needed for their graffiti to evolve into an urban art form by working within certain boundaries. One of the boundaries established here was that of detailed planning before beginning the project.  In this case, the planning and designing alone took 40 hours of the 107 hours spent on this project in only seven days.

Picture this:  School is out for the summer months.  Fabitat, the new Hilltop home of Fab-5, opens its doors to a diverse group of students who are looking to find and refine their creative voices. Those who choose graffiti as their focus learn how to channel their rebellious outlook and need for self-expression through “scribing” their names, often in an abstract way.  Through drafting and designing they begin to develop an individual style.  They learn through hard work to respect each other’s work.  For example, on Sundays the work that exists on the Graffiti Garages at Broadway and So. 7th can be painted over.  However, the new painter must observe two rules: the resulting new art must be clearly superior to what is there, and out of respect, the new painting must totally cover the old work.

Picture this:  I am hosted by Kenji Stoll, a teaching artist and member of Fab-5’s leadership team. We are seated in Fab-5’s new headquarters at Fabitat.  He has just given me my first assignment: he points to the graffiti design on the wall and asks me, “What does this say?”  He had just explained to me that a name is the central part of the design and I feel clever in calling out the first three letters, but hesitated until it dawned on me that it spelled “Fabitat.”  Fab-5’s current location, Fabitat, grew out of the City of Tacoma’s Spaceworks initiative to invigorate the city through building occupancy.

The teaching artists in Fab-5, whether helping to design and execute a graffiti project, or working with students in the other urban arts (hip hop, break dancing, Djing [being a disc jockey], spoken word, rap, screen printing, recording) have worked with their Leadership Strategy Team to help young people (ages 12-24) of diverse backgrounds create community through the arts.  Their community-building power began on the PLU campus and today, 12 years later, is recognized in a recent press release.  According to David Fisher of the Broadway Center who announced the second round of Voices of the City, “New to the team of teaching artists are members of Tacoma’s, Fab-5 who focus on engaging youth in creative expression and community engagement. Fab-5 has been doing amazing community-based art work since the year 2000.”

The FABITAT Expressive Art Center

1316 South Martin Luther King Ave

Tacoma WA 98405

Free, open art resource

Tuesday – Friday, 4-10 p.m.

On-going donor program is at Fab-5.org/Give   website: http://www.fab-5.org