A lost dog, an enterprising boy and Anne Frank have both mystified and angered members of the Yale community since October.
When a graffiti artist — or potentially artists — with the tag “Believe in People” painted a giant stencil of Anne Frank on a back wall of the Partners Cafe on Crown Street last week, the owner of the establishment decided to let the piece stay up, according to one store employee who did not wish to be named. But the artist has not received such a warm reception from Yale administrators when painting on University property.
“Our position on graffiti is that no matter how beautiful it may be (and most of it is far from beautiful), it is an act of vandalism,” University Properties Director Abigail Rider said in an email. “If not promptly removed [the graffiti] sends a signal to people in the area that the owners and residents of the area think it’s not worth it to maintain their property.”
But the Partners Cafe employees did not feel similarly about the work.
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“It’s not graffiti, it’s a picture of Anne Frank,” said the cafe employee. “It’s true that it was not commissioned, but from what I understand, he is a local artist who puts up murals around the city, so we’re not going to remove it [in the near future.]”
The artist known as “Believe in People” first arrived on the New Haven scene with a two-part stencil. In early October, a stencil depicting a boy posting a sign saying “Lost Dog” was spray-painted onto a side door of Dunham Lab. Across a driveway and on the other side of a concrete wall, the artist sprayed a picture of a small black cairn terrier. At the time, the artist did not write any name, so some students questioned whether the piece was done by famed British street artist Banksy.
“Believe in People” next struck on a wall outside Mory’s. This time, the artist depicted a boy with a shovel braking through a brick wall to find blue sky on the other side. This time, “believe” was scrawled nex to the painting. An accompanying tweet from BelieveInPeople said “They think I’m Bansky? blush.”
Even Rider was quick to compliment “Believe in People,” although she said she hoped the paintings would receive permission in the future.
“The painter (or group of painters) of the image on Crown Street clearly is a graphic artist of some ability,” she said. “I would hope that he or she would be able to convince someone to sponsor a wall painting based on the merit of the art, rather than trespassing and vandalizing some one’s property.”
Since then, the artist has painted Native Americans — reminiscent of the accusations of Geronimo’s alledgedly stolen skull — on the wall of the Skull and Bones tomb, and other walls around the city. All the while, the artist’s true identity remains a closely guarded secret. However, a BelieveInPeople YouTube video that used music from a Yale student band hints that there may be a University affiliation.
This secrecy is essential for a graffiti artist to guard against both public criticism and legal problems, said James Silveira ’13, who told the News that he has done graffiti for several years back home in Chicago.
“There is a fine distinction between vandalism and putting something together that can actually be appreciated as art,” Silveira said. “Even though you may consider it art, another person might look at the wall and say, ‘Well damn, that was a good-looking wall, and now it’s got all that paint on it.’”
New Haven Police Department Spokesman Joseph Avery said the official policy is to always stop graffiti when officers see an artist in action. But although the NHPD considers street art a crime, Avery said there is no one in the department specifically assigned to analyzing or stopping local graffiti. Other larger cities specifically look to graffiti as signs of gang activity.
The Yale Police Department takes graffiti more seriously. YPD Spokesman Lt. Steven Woznyk said that the University police investigates all graffiti complaints and attempts to identify individual artists.
Rider explained that this strict response is because graffiti makes people feel unsafe, but Silveira disagreed.
“Some people are going to see [the Anne Frank mural] and at a very basic level just look at the image and think it’s cool. But maybe they’ll keep the thought of Anne Frank in their head all day or just think about believing in people,” Silveira said.
Danny Serna contributed reporting.