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‘Street Art’ Sparks Debate In Portsmouth, NH

By Karen Anderson, WBZ-TV
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Is this display in Portsmouth, N.H. considered street art or illegal graffiti?

Is this display in Portsmouth, N.H. considered street art or illegal graffiti?

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PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Eyesore… or Art?

It’s called Tomorrow Man, and it has lot of people talking in Portsmouth.

Jane James says, “It’s very exciting and it’s something new and different.”

It’s part of a Portsmouth Museum of Fine Art exhibit on “street art.”

Portsmouth MFA’s Cathy Sununu says, “I love that piece.  It’s called the Tomorrow Man, and he’s basically depicting 20th century man, which I think is exuberant and vibrant and energetic, and I think it’s really positive.  If it were vandalism, I’d consider it defacement, but we’re a museum, we undertook the exhibition with permission from the private property owners.”

WBZ-TV’s Karen Anderson reports.

Jane James asked if her building on the corner of State and Pleasant Streets could be included. A Greek artist, Alexandros Vasmoulakis, painted the entire side of her building, with an image of a man that includes a large mouth, as well as hearts, and an ice cream cone.

“I’m excited about it,” Jane says.

But not everyone agrees. Rob McDowell created a petition for the Mayor and City Council to express their displeasure with the street art.

He writes, “While this type of so-called art might have looked appropriate on the Berlin Wall while you’re trying to convince the Soviets to go home the residents of Portsmouth have no where to retreat but in revulsion at this stuff.”

Could the city take action?

No, according to City Attorney Robert Sullivan. He says, “The city actually has no authority to take any action at all, in connection with the petition, or with that piece of graffiti.”

“The city regulates almost all things in the historic district with regard to the appearance of buildings.  For example if you want to change the windows in that  building, the owner would have to get permission from a city commission.  However, one thing that is not regulated is the color of the buildings,” Sullivan added.

Sullivan explains, “The decision was made at the time the law was created that the building owner ought to be able to decide what color they want their building to be, so that was left out.”

What’s the difference between the “street art” and illegal graffiti?  Sullivan says it’s legal if the building owner allows it, and it’s illegal if they don’t.

Sullivan says there has been a spike in illegal graffiti since the exhibit opened, but police are working to catch those responsible.

The Portsmouth City Council was set to discuss the petition Monday night.

The Portsmouth Museum of Fine Art is hosing an open discussion forum this Wednesday, June 8th at 6 pm at the Museum at 1 Harbor Place in Portsmouth.  The public is welcome to come and express their opinions.

The exhibit will be on display though the summer.

What does Jane say to people who say this doesn’t fit in with downtown Portsmouth?  “It’s only paint… Street art is temporary.  It is not going to be here forever.  Eventually it will get painted.”

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