Metro

After fines, ‘lonely’ tagger sparks debate about public art

Cumberland man fined over $12,000 for spreading graffiti around Providence last spring

By
Metro Editor
Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Though some community members and business owners were upset by the Devin Costa’s graffiti, others, such as Micah Salkind GS, believe that Costa’s work contributes to a dialogue on public art in Providence.

A fundraiser has raised over $2,700 on the crowdfunding website IndieGoGo to help Devin Costa, a 19-year-old from Cumberland, Rhode Island, pay $12,390 in restitution for leaving graffiti around Providence over a period of several months.

The campaign’s Facebook page has 600 likes at press time.

Nicknamed the “lonely” tagger, Costa left messages like, “lonely as I’ve ever been” and, “I love you even when you don’t notice” on six buildings in the city, including the office of his now-defense lawyer, Tom Thomasian. Costa turned himself in last spring after the Providence Police made a surveillance photo of him public, and he pleaded no contest last month to six misdemeanor charges of vandalism.

A business owner estimated it would cost about $4,000 to clean up Costa’s graffiti, said Timothy O’Hara, the downtown district commander of the Providence Police, in a Providence Journal article. “We had a lot of complaints, not only from businesses, but people who don’t want to see that kind of stuff,” he told the Journal.

In response to this sentiment, Micah Salkind GS, a supporter of the campaign to pay Costa’s restitution, said, “So don’t look.”

“Clearly, this is private property,” Salkind said, “but … that doesn’t mean that the art he’s making isn’t provocative.” Salkind published a Facebook status that was widely shared and ultimately ended up being used on the campaign’s IndieGoGo page.

Salkind criticized Costa’s sentencing and the community response to Costa’s work, saying that the situation stemmed from systemic problems in the public arts infrastructure of Providence — a city that has been called the creative capital of the northeast.

Costa’s tags were “in dialogue” with the commissioned murals and street art that were put up during the Providence International Arts Festival, which took place June 11-14, Salkind said. While artists from outside of Providence and Rhode Island were celebrated for outdoor artworks that were similar in nature, Costa was punished.

“A lot of times, a trap that small cities (like Providence) fall into … is never seeing the value that’s in front of them, that they’ve already cultivated from within, and always trying to bring something or someone from without to confer legitimacy,” Salkind said.

The Providence Department of Art, Culture and Tourism did not respond when asked for a reaction to this statement.

While Salkind recognized that what Costa did was illegal, he said the response to Costa’s work was disproportionate and the building owners should have channeled their efforts into a larger discussion about the value and nature of public art, rather than working to hold Costa accountable.

“Can we do better to cultivate and provide pathways for people who are here already?” asked Salkind, noting that not all artists have opportunities to build a career or receive arts education outside of the state.

The Department of Art, Culture and Tourism wrote in an email to The Herald that Rhode Island has strong arts programs, citing those at Brown, the Rhode Island School of Design, Rhode Island College, University of Rhode Island, Providence College and the New England Institute of Technology.

“Our city has nationally recognized youth arts organizations,” the department wrote, also referencing CityArts!, a free art education program for Providence youth, as a prime example. “We work closely with the arts community to support their innovative ideas,” the department wrote.

Neither Costa’s lawyer nor the founder of the campaign responded to requests for comment.