Graffiti: Art or Crime?

Knoxville (WVLT) - East Tennessee has many beautiful locations, but graffiti can really change the view.

Often making a new, historic, or beautiful building, overpass, or bridge look old and rundown.

The Auto Glass Masters on Kingston Pike is one of the many abandoned buildings that's been tagged with graffiti, but not everyone sees it as vandalism.

"It's a good feeling, good release, sort of like making music," Steve O'Connor says he's done a lot of graffiti work in the past. "I sort of do my work in a gallery now, as opposed to going out and tagging trains and local bridges and what not."

Even though he's moved his inside, O'Connor says he strongly supports the graffiti artists around Knoxville.

"I think it's a good form of expression. It's an art for. It's something that these guys are doing without taking any credit," says O'Connor.

No credit for sometimes a very dangerous task.

"There's guys climbing on the interstate, risking life to get a piece of artwork up. You've gotta respect that even if you don't like the work itself," says O'Connor.

While many people say graffiti is a beautiful expression of art, others say it's bringing Knoxville down and it needs to be painted over.

"It's not their pallet. Ok, the pallet belongs to somebody else," Executive Director for Keep Knoxville Beautiful and "Graffiti Hurts" Tom Salter encourages property owners to clean up the graffiti right away, "If you don't have permission, it's not ok."

"It removes that opportunity and they'll go elsewhere," Salter says.

Salter says the vandalism sends out the wrong message for Knoxville. "When people see graffiti in their neighborhood, when tourists see graffiti, when customers see graffiti, it tells them there's something disorderly about this community."

"It can be a beautiful thing when it's done in the right areas," says O'Connor.

TDOT tells us the cost to clean up the graffiti varies depending on the damage, but from July 2006 to December, they've spent about $4,000 in the Knox, Blount and Sevier County District, mainly focusing on retaining walls on the interstate.

If you're caught spray painting where you don't have permission, KPD tells us you face vandalism misdemeanors that could lead to felonies if repeated.