Burning Decontrol

Burning Decontrol

A project in conjunction with Allied Productions’ ongoing Mural Project:

Allied Productions Inc. began with a desire to politically engage youth in affordable housing concerns. We wanted to use the medium of graffiti, an artform driven by youth that addresses concerns of property, ownership, and individual agency. So we engaged Ben Rothenberg, a graffiti artist with minimal experience in sanctioned (i.e. legal) art making. Rothenberg is known in the graffiti community by his tag, Lanski.

While we were scoping sites for a possible pro-housing mural, Rothenberg told me, “Graffiti is essentially the equivalent of a cat pissing on its territory.” He explained graffiti as the act of tagging (putting one’s graffiti signature, or ‘tag,’) as many places as possible. This defiant act, also sometimes called “burning,” is a sort of claim (of presence, if not of ownership) to the wall or building tagged.

Selected site for “Burning Decontrol” mural

We would not use illegal graffiti practices like this to advocate for affordable housing, but we did sense a connection between a graffiti artist’s personal campaign and the political campaign we were trying to conduct. To illustrate the connection, we decided to call the project “Burning Decontrol.” The title advocates legitimacy for graffiti, but also suggests that there is a legitimacy to the quest for ownership and expression sought by graffiti, which is not allowed to legally claim the space it claims. Likewise, we see property as something that should be available to people who need it, and observe that people’s options for property ownership are often unfairly limited and suppressed by a real estate market whose rampant development, especially on the Lower East Side, caters to the rich, gentrifying neighborhoods and denying decent and affordable homes to those who most need them. Thus, “Burning Decontrol” campaigns for legitimate affordable housing options for people who need homes, and it does so utilizing legitimate street art that represents a victory in laying just claim to public space.

Culling from a list provided by Citizens For NYC, Allied contacted GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side), whose executive director, Wassim Lone, committed the organizations’ support to the project, which was in fact inspired in part by GOLES tenants union meetings where inquiries were made as to how to engage youth in affordable housing concerns.

Rothenberg working on the mural

Rothenberg was guided through the process of conceiving a design and slogan for a mural, going through several drafts before settling on the slogan, “Everyone Needs a Home.” Allied supported him in compiling a portfolio of paintings, drawings and photographs of his work to be presented to prospective hosts for the proposed mural.

Ian Kowaleski, then an intern at Allied Productions, accompanied Rothenberg to scout prospective sites for the project. Leslie Lowe, a professional artist with a longtime integral association with Allied Productions was engaged to mentor Rothenberg in the development of the creative area of the project. The print shop at ABC No Rio, an organization that also has a history of being fostered by Allied, was selected as the facility for producing t-shirts associated with the mural, also designed by Rothenberg and featuring the slogan “Everyone Needs a Home.” Under Lowe’s guidance Rothenberg learned the silk screening process where the No Rio print shop provided resources, expertise, production space as part of their mission in providing public services.

The completed mural

text by Jack Waters and Ian Kowaleski


Leslie Lowe – artist mentor/project supervisor creative tasks
David Orama – conceptual co-strategist
Ian Kowaleski – project assistance
Ben Rothenberg  principal artist/designer
Jack Waters – project facilitator/coordinator
Peter Cramer –  project advisor

This project would not have been possible without the generous support of:

Citizens For NY (Sponsor)
NYC Deptartment Parks and Recreation Youth Programs at Hamilton Fish Center (video project)
G.O.L.E.S. (Housing Organization)

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