Amsterdam has a rich, so called street art scene, where graffiti plays an important role. Much of this young people activity is closely connected to some sorts of music as hip hop, a few sport disciplines as skating and BMX biking, selected video games and a specific fashion. Groups of graffiti artists call themselves crews. Amsterdam crews like USA (United Street Artists), TMP, 3rd Eye or LF (The Lame Face) exist now for about fifteen years.
Graffiti artists used to call themselves writers or bombers. “Putting shit” – as they themselves call it, or in our language painting graffiti, happens mostly at night. This is because of the regulations, which are very simple – a graffiti artist has to pay for the damage done by the painting. Since the basic cost of a simple graffiti cleaning is € 150,- ($ 220,-) per square meter, whilst cleaning of the bigger stone surface of the wall may go into hundreds of thousands of euros, only some very small graffiti are actually affordable. When caught, graffiti artists are usually arrested for one night, but they can be kept in detention up to three days and six hours. Judges are lenient only at the first apprehension, usually giving an offender a small fine for vandalism and a cleaning task. When caught for the second time, you may end up in jail and pay a big penalty for the damages. That is why many of the graffiti cases end up in a settlement, where graffiti artists pay for and cooperate in removal of the paintings, with 10% paid of the damages paid to the court. No wonder most of the graffiti appear on houses doors, gates and fences – these are the most unproblematic places to renovate.
The Dutch approach
Amsterdam municipality has an interesting approach towards the graffiti artists, trying to decriminalize the whole activity by creating legal opportunities and places to paint, by promoting the most interesting graffiti painters to the status of an artist accepted by the society, by sponsoring them, giving them commissions to decorate, trying to convince them to move with their painting to canvas, promoting exhibitions and finally purchasing most interesting works to the museums. Last years several museums of reputation as Noord Brabantsmuseum in s’Hertogenbosch and Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo have exhibited graffiti.