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Graffiti: UK vs. U.S.

Rachel Wilson (B.A. Film & Media Arts, ’14) explores what makes urban art acceptable … or a threat

Film and Media Arts major Rachel Wilson (’14) started out her Engaged Learning project in London earlier this year thinking she was going to compare United Kingdom rap and hip-hop to U.S. rap and hip-hop. In short order she realized those doors were closed to her.

“Pretty quickly I saw that, in order to be safe in the places I needed to go and to talk to the people I needed to talk to, I had to build relationships with people in London who could accompany me as I did my research. I just wasn’t going to be there long enough to build those relationships.”

So, she shifted topics. Seeing how the world of UK hip-hop cordoned people in or out of its sphere, she figured the same must be true about art. “I started looking at graffiti in London and Dallas as well as in the U.S. and Europe in general,” she says. “So now I’m looking at keystone graffiti artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey, what they’re doing, why they’re famous and why it’s okay for them and not okay for other people to create graffiti.”

While Wilson herself is a fan of graffiti, she put her personal preferences aside in order to do the project.  “I’m getting information from all the disparate groups and looking at how graffiti can be dangerous, how it can cause turf wars and gang violence, but also how it can beautify a city, how it can unify a city.”

Over the next few months, Wilson will film artists in Dallas’s Deep Ellum district and people in the city of Dallas’s “Give Graffiti the Brush” campaign as part of her capstone Engaged Learning project. In February 2014 she will present a five-minute film about her findings.

Engaged Learning Grants

SMU offers an extraordinary chance for undergraduate students to augment their education via Engaged Learning grants. With the help of a faculty mentor, students can propose to conduct research, do community service or internships, or produce a creative work. Students whose projects are selected can be awarded up to $2,000 to fund the project; upon completion and presentation of the project, the grant is included in the student’s transcript and archived on SMU’s website. Typically, each project takes one or two years to conduct. Of the 70 students currently involved in Engaged Learning projects in 2013-14, 19 are Meadows School of the Arts students.

Read more about previous student research and projects.

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