Tel Aviv has gone to great lengths to present itself as a young, vibrant city full of cutting edge art, culture and innovation. But does the city’s public face match up to the reality of creating alternative culture in Tel Aviv?
Florentin is arguably the Tel Aviv’s most hipster-friendly neighbourhood, full of trendy cafes, bars and plenty of opportunities to sample the city’s world-famous underground culture. In fact, Florentin’s back alleys, with their semi-derelict light industrial buildings, have been the favourite haunt of the city’s many talented graffiti artists for quite some time. So popular are they, that a whole industry has sprung up around them. Locals and tourists alike can join a dedicated graffiti tour to explore the area, discover the latest artworks and learn about their artistic, cultural and even linguistic context. The DIY Tel Aviv guide recommends several such tours, including those run by CTLV and Streetwise Hebrew.
In recent years, the Tel Aviv municipality itself has jumped on the bandwagon, offering its own graffiti tours at a lower price (thus essentially undercutting the private individuals who originally came up with this idea in the first place, but I digress).
But while all graffiti artists are more than used to other people profiting from their art, local street artists have been surprised to discover that they are being actively targeted by a joint police / municipality task force. It’s come to the attention of DIY Tel Aviv that joint security patrols (basically a police officer in a cop car with a city inspector ride-along) have been proactively frequenting Florentin’s back alleys in the past month or so , threatening artists with fines and potential arrests, and occasionally even handing out actual fines.
The feeling among the artists is that this is a recent change in policy, as these patrols seem far more frequent and are apparently independent of any actual complains. The buildings in the area are old, filthy and often abandoned, with the owners either being indifferent to graffiti or actively supportive of the artists. The whole area is slowly being demolished to make way for luxury tower blocks, so is on borrowed time anyway. But if locals are not complaining about street art, why is the city sending patrols to stop it? And doesn’t it seem particularly cynical when you consider the fact that the same municipality also sends its own paid graffiti tours to exactly the same area?
Graffiti is considered a form of vandalism in Tel Aviv / Israel and is therefore officially a crime, but street artists who stick to certain rules have generally been left alone. As long as they’ve stuck to out of the way areas and old, derelict and abandoned buildings, they felt they were quietly allowed to go about their business, produce public art and contribute to Tel Aviv’s image as the capital of cool.
But now, it seems the city of Tel Aviv is trying to profit off street artists twice. It fines artists for creating art, while publicly sharing photos of the very same art on its instagram page and charging people 60NIS a head to see it in the flesh.
This isn’t the first time Tel Aviv has presented a young, cool public face to the world while being quietly disrespectful or outright hostile to creatives and artists behind the scenes. From sending patrols to violently break up unsanctioned parties during the supposedly inclusive White Night event to asking local creatives to work for “exposure”, it has a well-established love-hate relationship with the people who make this city what it is.
This latest report, though, is perhaps, the most cynical example of the above. It certainly raises some tough questions about ethics, hypocrisy and exploitation. If nothing else, you should keep this in mind when choosing a local graffiti tour.
DIY Tel Aviv has reached out to the Tel Aviv municipality for an official response. Here it is:
“The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality recognizes the uniqueness and importance of street art, including murals, and even sees fit to give it a stage in the designated places throughout the city, as well as conduct street tours. However, the execution of graffiti without permission on the walls of both public and private buildings is a criminal offense. The police force is responsible for the enforcement of the matter, alongside the municipal enforcement agencies. Before creating graffiti, it’s recommended to check whether it’s permissible.”