Graffiti is a gang thing, right? Lakeland’s graffiti is rampant and destructive, no?
Wait until you watch the video below before you answer those questions.
Produced by the latest Cultural Studies and the Pop Arts class at the University of South Florida Polytechnic, the video takes a look at graffiti in Lakeland. It’s certainly not a hard-hitting documentary produced by professional filmmakers, but it’s an interesting look into a piece of Lakeland that doesn’t get a lot of airtime.
Dr. John Lennon, an Assistant Professor at USFP, has written about the issue of graffiti. When his Fall 2011 class of traditional and non-traditional age students took up the issue, they decided to make the video.
The video includes an introduction to the city that’ll be familiar to Lakeland Locals. Lennon said, “I think what the students wanted to do was to celebrate Lakeland as most people know about it but then to show this subculture that is also a part of Lakeland that most people do not know.”
Lennon added that further interest in the subject could lead to an expanded documentary, “I think if other students are interested in doing a project like this and we were able to get multiple videos about graffiti in Lakeland, then I think we could have a larger film where we edit the films together. I think this type of document would be a great resource for the community.”
Lennon said the video spoke to the polytechnic model of education, “I think applied learning is really the hallmark of a poly education—they grew in their ability to work together to investigate a complex subject. When they graduate, they won’t be graffiti experts. But they will have had an experience that forced them outside their comfort zone, where they had to become co-leaders while they learned a great deal of information (both technical and theoretical) that they then applied to produce a relevant and informative film. I think those are skills they can take into any profession.”
This video speaks for itself, but we asked Lennon a few background questions by email:
• Why graffiti? Was it a class assignment? “Graffiti is a great subject for a popular culture class. It is something that all of us see on a fairly regular basis and yet, for the most part, we don’t think about it. But once you slow down and allow yourself to think about the subject in its ideological form suddenly these simple words on a wall are not so simple anymore.
It brings out questions of illegality, of public/private ownership, of semiotics, of the desire to write and be heard, of financial burdens on government/owners. The students really became interested in this subject and I rearranged the course to allow them to explore it to the depth that they felt was needed.
I believe that empowered students who can take the reins of their own education are the type of students that USFP wants to produce (and I want to teach) and so when you have passionate students, you give them guidance but allow them the space to explore.”
• How much work was done on their own? Did they produce it on USFP equipment? “Yes, they worked in the DMIS lab and used their equipment (along with their own smartphones). And we would meet together in the lab outside of class hours and just work.
So yes, this was a project that expanded the walls of the classroom and had them in Lakeland and in the lab all on their own time. Our students have tremendous responsibilities outside the classroom—they have fulltime or part time jobs, some have child care responsibilities—and they just found the time to do this film because they believed in the project.”
• Is making a video a normal component of the class? Was this something special this class wanted to do? “Yes! The class voted on doing the video, it was not required. We were speaking about graffiti (it’s a subject that I have published articles about) and they were really interested in the idea.
So we decided to look into the subject. We read some theoretical articles on graffiti and then we set up a skype talk with a graffiti scholar, Dr. Matt Burns. The students were excited by the idea of then taking this global phenomenon and then focusing upon Lakeland. So, the first thing they had to do was just to walk around Lakeland and take pictures of graffiti that they found and then to tweet what they saw (a component of the class was that all students needed to have Twitter accounts). Many could not find much. But then they worked together and learned where to look and suddenly they found a lot. Once they scratched the surface, they became to examine this subculture, and applying their readings to the words they found on the walls of buildings throughout Lakeland, they began to envision a short documentary that could reveal this hidden subculture.”
• Do you have background with video or did they consult other staff about making the video? “None of the students had any background in film. Some are criminology majors, some are psychology majors, some are STEM majors. But in order to make the film, they all had to use their own expertise and knowledge base (and world view) and have it mix creatively with other members of the class.
This was a tremendous amount of work. But the students made multiple forays to Downtown Lakeland to take pictures of the graffiti and map it, then they interviewed shop owners, passer-bys, and police officers (they had hours and hours of interviews). Once they compiled all their film, they then holed up for about a week in the DigitalMedia Innovation Studio (DMIS), a brand new space multimedia design studio. Scott Johnson, a media guru at USFP, helped the class with getting started with editing. But the class just put in the time and learned how to make a film from conception to uploading it to Youtube.”
• Did the students choose their roles? (Director, on-air talent, editor, etc) or did they take turns in the roles? “I really want to stress this point in order to make this film, the students really had to speak across their disciplines and work together. They had to bring their skills to the table and then roll up their sleeves and work together. Everyone had to do their part—and do it well. And they learned and grew with this project: people who never knew what editing software was, suddenly were taking leading roles in the editing process. Those who were afraid to stand up in front of the class to make individual presentations, were now bravely in front of the camera. It was just really wonderful to see.”