Madrid town council comes up with innovative way to clean up graffiti

Spray-painters tricked into entering competition where prize was chance to paint over their works

A video of the campaign released by the Brunete council (in Spanish).

“We are looking for graffiti artists for the first monument to freedom of expression in Brunete. An educational project from the Fine Arts Department to clean up the image of graffiti artists.” That was what the radio ads broadcast in the Madrid town of Brunete promised. Those who were chosen would get €300 for their work, which, what’s more, would be immortalized in a sculpture.

With such an attractive offer, what kind of graffiti artist in their right mind would be able to resist? Ad agency McCann came up with this campaign, which was put into practice by the Brunete town council. But there was a sting in the tail.

A total of 23 people responded to the call, eight of whom actually turned up at the council, who were then whittled down to five “finalists.” “These were the people who were painting a lot in the streets of the town,” municipal sources explained. The spray-painters showed off pictures of their work. “Yep, that’s me,” one of the youngsters told council workers. “I might have been copied by someone else, but I am the original Kobo,” he explained, in reference to his “tag.”

The participants were told that “cleaning up the image of the graffiti artist” meant, literally, erasing their work

The surprise for the participants came when they were told that “cleaning up the image of the graffiti artist” meant, literally, erasing their work. “No way man!” one of the finalists is heard saying, in a video recorded by the council.

It turns out that the real aim of the exercise was to raise awareness about the damage that this particular type of artistic expression can cause in places that weren’t designed for it.

But in the end the spray-painters got suited up in white overalls and got on with the task in hand. Armed with a pressure hose or a paintbrush, they saw to it that their graffiti disappeared.

The aim was to raise awareness about the damage graffiti can cause in places that weren’t designed for it

And as for the €300? “That’s the price of the fine for the graffiti that they had painted,” explained sources from the council. The ad agency did not charge anything for the campaign either.

The spray-painters were, however, allowed to get to work on several blank slabs of concrete, which were later used as a monument to freedom in the town. The council said that the most interesting result of the campaign was that it “allowed us to teach those who were painting in inappropriate places a direct lesson.” Up until now, the tags of the five graffiti artists have not reappeared in the town. The council has not, however, been able to rid Brunete of graffiti altogether – “Not yet,” anyway.

Perhaps the graffiti artists should have been more wary of the town council’s plan, given that it has something of a history of similar stunts. Last year, McCann was behind a campaign whereby dog owners who failed to clean up after their animals were sent the “deposits” as lost property. After a total of 147 deliveries, Brunete officials reported that the paths and public spaces in the town ended up 70-percent cleaner.