Although you won’t see the D.A.R.E. logo front-and-center on the Oxygen website, it is one of the key sponsors of the network’s irritating new fiasco, Street Art Throwdown, a contrived street art reality show that debuted two weeks ago. Yes, D.A.R.E., a group founded by police who hate graffiti, is funding a show that celebrates street art. That’s like the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association sponsoring an Occupy protest workshop.
The Drug Abuse Resistance Education was established in 1983 by Daryl Gates, the semi-racist Los Angeles chief who’s credited with pioneering the creation of SWAT teams, claiming blacks breathe differently than “normal people” when cops are choking them, calling Hispanics lazy, and resigning in shame in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating and subsequent LA riots. Its board also consists of controversial figures like current chair Louis “Skip” Miller, who boasts how he made sure Rodney King didn’t get all the millions he was suing for. Then there’s Howard Safir, the controversial NYPD police commissioner who actively spied on artists painting legally at 5Pointz when it was still referred to as the Phun Factory in the early 90s, among others.
D.A.R.E.’s understanding of graffiti, street art’s illicit predecessor, is about as outdated as you’d expect it to be. According to spokesperson Mistie Bell Banks, graffiti is primarily evidence of gang behavior. “That’s where [graffiti] came from,” she told ANIMAL. “A lot of it comes from gangs. That’s how they talk to each other.”
D.A.R.E is the nation’s largest anti-drug program, boasting a curriculum taught by armed police officers in schools in all 50 states and over 43 countries despite the heaps of research that suggest their efforts have mostly been a failure. (Some findings suggested that D.A.R.E actually increased drug use and reduced self esteem in students who underwent their program). After years of declining funds for their programs D.A.R.E. attempted to rebrand itself as anti-bullying experts in 2010. (Anyone else think it’s kind of ironic that police officers, who are essentially professional bullies, head an anti-bullying program?) Similar to its failed anti-drug program, a widely publicized study in 2013 argued that school-based anti-bullying programs don’t reduce bullying, and may actually exacerbate the problem. But pesky things like data don’t affect D.A.R.E. When it first became apparent that their anti-drug curriculum wasn’t working and researchers said so, then D.A.R.E. executive director Glen Levant famously said in response: “Scientists will tell you bumble bees can’t fly, but we know they can.”
Now D.A.R.E., with all its fuzzy logic and hypocrisy, is trying to latch on to the sudden marketability of street art. In the second episode of Street Art Throwdown, which aired Tuesday night, contestants were required to make an anti-bullying poster for the organization. (If you’re going to stop bullying, what could be more innovative than a street art-style poster? Surely, it’ll do better than the ineffectual, cartoony videos that have been sitting on YouTube since 2010 with hardly any views.) The winner of this challenge not only advanced to the next round, but was also told their design would be used for one of D.A.R.E.’s 2015 marketing campaigns AND they will get the honor of painting a mural on D.A.R.E.’s headquarters.
D.A.R.E. agreed to sponsor the show, Banks said, because street art is “a good outlet for anti-drug messaging.” When asked if the organization had plans to do any more street art-based marketing, she said, “We would love to help promote if it’s done legally.” To her, it’s important that the artists are civic-minded and loyal to law enforcement. Anyone working with D.A.R.E. needs to “support the police department and the government. I think it’s a beautiful attribute and we know it’s a trend for the kids. The key is it’s done legal.”
Keeping things by-the-book, all of the contestants were required to pass a drug test as part of the screening process. One of the artists who goes by the moniker Grimnasty confirmed the obligation but claimed it was because of all the running and climbing they had to do. “Yeah,” he said about taking the drug test. “I think it’s because of the physical activity.”
D.A.R.E. is a nonprofit, by the way, that counts on funding from the DEA, Department of Defense and various pharmaceutical companies such as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufactures of America (PhRMA). I asked Banks if the drug testing was a condition set by D.A.R.E., but she refused to answer clearly. All she kept saying was that D.A.R.E. has a “moral clause” and that I needed to contact Oxygen to ask them how they fulfilled that prerequisite. So I did.
“Unfortunately, we do not discuss the network’s casting process for any of our shows,” said NBCUniversal spokesperson for Oxygen Ryan McCormick. ANIMAL reached out to executive producer and judge Justin Bua, but he didn’t respond.
So there you have it: D.A.R.E, an organization started by the LAPD to combat drug and gangs in the early 80s and were also witness to one of the greatest increases of drug and gang activity in Los Angeles, now support “street art.” I knew Oxygen’s new show was full of shit, I just didn’t know how deep it was.