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Julie Reich, Ph.D

Philadelphia, PA

Graffiti flourished in the City of Brotherly Love in the 1960s. While gangs used it to claim territory, by the end of the decade teenagers were writing their nicknames throughout the city. By 1971, Philadelphia was so inundated with graffiti that the city police force maintained a 25-person “graffiti squad” to address the issue. Mayor Frank Rizzo introduced legislation to ban the sale of spray paint. At the same time, Julie Reich, PhD, a new professor at Moore College of Art, took notice of the wall writing. Reich identified graffiti as “public folk art,” categorizing the styles she photographed as classic, baroque, rococo, and decadent. She came to know some of the writers and invited some of them to speak to her folk arts class. Her photographs and research stand as rare documents of both the era and this ephemeral form. Philadelphia’s wall writers became well-known personas, appearing in clubs and as social functions dressed in the latest fashions. While local news media discussed whether they were “Barbarians with Spraycans” who needed to clean the city up or “Graffiti Kings” with artistic potential, the writers became even bigger celebrities. The debate about whether Philadelphia or New York started graffiti will go on forever.