Graffiti is widely thought of as acts of vandalism. What a lot of people don’t realize is the power of graffiti as a social medium to promote change, especially in countries where the freedom of speech is oppressed. It can be used to inform and persuade, and because of its universal reach, it can be considered a mass communication medium.
Street artists such as Banksy, the famous but unknown artist of London, and Shepard Fairey, founder of the OBEY campaign, produce graffiti designed to challenge people’s perception of society and get them to question that status quo of their environment. It is through this type of graffiti (graffiti that ignites thought) that really has the power to raise awareness about social issues and to motivate people to act upon them.
An increasing awareness of street art as an important social medium has led many to engage in ethical practices of graffiti. There has been an emergence of street art festivals, such as the Urban Arts Festival in Puerto Rico, that aim to promote free expression of the youth and create awareness about social issues that communities face. These festivals offer graffiti artists a place to express themselves without doing so illegally on walls of private businesses or government entities.