Michelle Simmons | May 2018
Each city has their own quirks and character. It’s these idiosyncrasies that define a city. So when I moved to Pensacola, Florida a couple of years ago I knew I had to find these “small treasures”.
While following local sites on Instagram, I noticed a handle for the Graffiti Bridge. This quickly piqued my interest because one of the things I have always loved is graffiti. I enjoy the raw beauty it brings to the side of a boring train car or a building. Yes, I know it is illegal and often graffiti can take beautiful architecture and make it unrecognizable. So, I am not condoning the destruction of property but instead glorifying an unlikely art.
This old railroad bridge is an iconic landmark for the city of Pensacola. According to thegraffitibridge.com, people have been graffitiing this bridge since around 1935. The unique thing about this bridge is the ever-evolving art. The art changes almost daily. And it represents a variety of themes, whether it be holidays, groups, memorials, or even sports teams! The bridge even has its own spin off art! Artists use the chipped off layers of paint for mosaics, jewelry, and more. It is truly a gem of our city.
Used with permission from TheGraffitiBridge.com
Bridge to Background
Drawing on this for inspiration, I wanted my children to have their “own slice” of the graffiti bridge as a memory from our year. My 5th grade students are the oldest at our school. They will be split between three different middle schools, so it was very important for our end of the year activities to be something they could cherish for years to come.
To begin, we discussed the history of graffiti and street art. I wanted to ensure my students knew the legality and negative connotations associated with graffiti as well as the beauty and artistic side. To accomplish this, I used a variety of sources. TED has a very informative video on the history of graffiti and its cultural impact across the world. (There are several other reputable YouTube videos that discuss this same topic.) Newsela, which contains news articles for students, also had several articles discussing the topic of graffiti and street art. After watching various videos, reading articles, and looking at images of graffiti across the country including our own beloved Graffiti Bridge, students wrote their opinion on if graffiti was art or vandalism.
Time to Tag
To transition from the history of graffiti to the art application of the project, I instructed the students on the basics of hand lettering. This is a personal hobby of mine, so many of the students knew I was sharing a part of myself. We have been working on cursive writing in class, so I was able to reinforce the handwriting standards, which was a win/win in the class! I posted different styles of hand lettering on our Google Classroom. Each student was assigned to design a personal “tag” for their name using a particular color scheme that was also creative and unique. After perfecting their tag, each student was given a half sheet of poster board for their “wall”. We all used block letters to write our school’s name and 2018 in the middle of our poster board. We then passed the poster around the classroom letting each student “tag” each other’s “walls”.
Goodbye Graffiti has been one of the most engaging projects I have ever done. My students instantly connected with it through our shared love for the Graffiti Bridge. Those who have not visited the historic site, I encouraged them to visit and even add a bit of graffiti themselves. (It is legal in this one location.) The history of graffiti is vibrant and fascinating and can take you so many different directions. Even though some consider it an eyesore, graffiti proves that anywhere can be a canvas. You truly can find art in the most unlikely places.