Ah, 'tis the fourth installment of MegaDap, CityBeat's shout out to San Diego hip-hop culture. If you've stuck with us this far, you recall that we've given props to local rappers (big up Madd Joker), break dancers (peace to the Rhythm Bugz) and DJs (DMCs, like what?). So it seems right to cast the spot light on what some call the "fourth element of hip-hop": graffiti, aka "bombing" or "burning."
"Graffiti is where it all began. If hip-hop is the voice of the voice-less, and DJing, rapping and breaking are part of that voice, then graffiti gives the visual presence," says Kutfather, a member of Writerz Blok, a nonprofit community art center whose mission is to cultivate street art.
Kutfather and the rest of the Writerz Blok crew are sitting behind the facility-a humble office building next to a massive yard lined with plywood walls and skate ramps, which serve as blank canvases for bombers' eager spray cans.
"Graffiti is like fine art to this generation, and this neighborhood has always been rich in graffiti art," explains Kutfather, who is also a DJ and local hip-hop organizer. "World renowned graffiti artists have come from here." By "here," he means the neighborhood surrounding the corner of Euclid Avenue and Market Street, an area of San Diego notorious for gang violence and gang-related vandalism.
In fact, it was vandalism that prompted the need for Writerz Blok. Six years ago, a nonprofit organization named The Jacobson Family Foundation attempted to renovate the community. "Their construction site and equipment was so heavily vandalized, they asked a well known Chicano muralist by the name of Victor Ochoa to see if he could get the youth involved in more positive activities," Kutfather explains.
"[Ochoa] got the kids involved in muraling."
Among the kids involved was one of Writerz Blok's founders, Brian Lageman. As Ochoa's apprentice, he co-founded Graff Creek, a site across from the current Writerz Blok location.
"We'd average about 60 to 70 kids every time we'd open for four hours," Lagemen says. "It was a peaceful environment. We'd have all kinds of crews coming together, with no fights. Everybody was just about painting." Soon, the community got behind the movement, and started paying the kids for murals, banners and flyers.
That provided the central idea behind Writerz Blok-give at-risk kids a legal, safe place to nurture their artistic talents, and teach them to translate those talents into income. After moving between seven locations in four years-including some abandoned buildings-Writerz Blok has finally found a home. They've spent thousands of dollars getting their current yard and office facilities ready.
Inside, the offices of Writerz Blok bustle with activity. Kids huddle around computers, working on graphic design projects. A giant printer churns out a banner. A silk screener sits, waiting for his T-shirts. This is the Writerz Shop-the business set up to get street artists paying work.
"The kids like to be involved when they get paid," Lageman explains. "A lot of these kids today-they won't really let you tell them anything. You have to involve them as equals. So we make sure the kids [earn] a percentage for the work they do."
The Writerz Blok hopes to expand in the near future. They're in the process of adding a skate park to their current facility, and have set up classes so kids can get schooled in graphic design, auto painting, DJing and breaking. Kutfather and the other members envision Writerz Blok on a global scale.
"I've been to a lot of cities in a lot of countries, and I've seen how important graffiti is," he says. "We'd like to expand our business to the point where we can hire people from neighborhoods like this, and use their skills in every city."
Writerz Blok/Writerz Shop (5010 Market St.) is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 619-263-4914.