By Brian J Pape, AIA
Friends of mine living near Tompkins Square Park gave me a tour of prominent graffiti in their area, pointing out better-known artists’ signatures or tags, as opposed to recent, unidentifiable works. Many of the wall murals were sanctioned and related to the businesses there. A set of murals on a former school on East 3rd Street, that were originally sanctioned, have recently been re-tagged with new images; fair game, I guess.
In the midst of this atmosphere is the East 7th Street Baptist Church, given a strange name, Graffiti Church. When it was first started in 1974, the small storefront church was constantly used for personal expression in the form of graffiti. In the beginning, they would paint over it, which only served to create a fresh canvas for the next person to leave their tag of graffiti. Deciding to not fight it, they accepted being surrounded by a form of art that represented the people and struggles of that community, and they chose what they think may be one of the best names for a church they could think of.
Graffiti Church began with serving children in the drug-controlled culture of Alphabet City, and they continue to serve as a safe haven for children, youth, and adults who want something more.
In the last 15 years they have started five Graffiti sites in the metropolitan area and two affiliates in other cities.