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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Non-gang members are using graffiti to

make their mark all over Memphis, but there is a great divide

between those who call it art and those who call it a crime.

Some people are working to meet in the middle in the debate over


Graffiti has existed since the days of ancient civilizations. Many

modern-day taggers consider their work art, but some say graffiti

sends a negative message about the welfare of the community.

"Graffiti, by definition, is ultimately vandalizing or defacing

someone's property that's not yours," said Jack, a Memphis


Jack is a well-known Memphis tagger who asked that his identity

not be revealed.

"I don't paint illegally anymore, but I've had some years, you

know," said Jack

The basic principle of graffiti is often to simply say, "I was here."

But Jack revealed a cement canvas covered in an intricate web of

vibrant colors tucked away on the backside of Memphis buildings.

"It's a hobby," said Jack. "Some people play pool, some people go

paint on the streets."

Jack is among a movement of maturing aerosol artists who take

their craft very seriously. They are working their way up in the

ranks to become rock stars in an underground world of


"We try to kind of change the view whenever we make art," said

Jack. "What you're seeing here today, that's what we want people to

think about when they hear the word 'graffiti'."

Convincing some Cooper Young business owners to change their

view is going to be a challenge for the taggers.

Business owner Frank Roberts is assisting the Midtown Security

Community in their efforts to run taggers out of town.

"It mars the beauty of the neighborhood," said Roberts.

The group's website is calling for residents to document graffiti

and submit photos to let them know they are being watched.

"When we see that graffiti, we want it gone," said Roberts.

Roberts said graffiti sends a message of economic and civic


"The first thing is just the image that it conveys," said Roberts.

"The second this is, hey, it's vandalism."

In one Memphis alley, taggers are not breaking the law. Building

owners have given the permission to paint there. Jack said

designating legal space for graffiti is a way to curb the vandalism.

"We want to make art," said Jack. "I want to progress."

Opponents are afraid legal space would encourage other taggers to

continue to paint illegally.

"I would really differ with anybody that would say that it

contributes to the good of Cooper Young or Midtown or any city,"

said Roberts.

The debate will likely remain open ended for now, not unlike the

question, "what is art?"

"It's in the eyes of the beholder, but I would not consider it art,"

said Roberts.

"We consider this art," said Jack. "It may not be your kind of art,

but its ours."

A number of US cities, including Salt Lake City and Atlanta, have

designated areas where graffiti is legal. Many other city

governments tried to do the same and failed. They said it brought

on more problems than solutions.

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