Virginia Tech Digging in the Crates in University Libraries celebrated the 50th anniversary of hip-hop by hosting an aerosol art workshop. 

Students and other members of the community helped experienced graffiti artist Good Homie Signs produce two 16-foot-long murals that honored the history of hip hop and introduced newcomers to the art form. 

“This is all about creating access to this type of art. Graffiti and aerosol art are largely something that’s done in the shadows. Bringing it out here and giving it the spotlight it deserves in a more friendly and welcoming space is really important,” said University Libraries Community Engagement Coordinator Craig Arthur, who leads the organization.

New Student and Family Programs Weeks of Welcome grant, which supports events during the first three weeks of the fall and spring semesters, funded the workshop.

Breaking stereotypes

Hip-hop culture long has been subject to misconceptions and stereotypes that often overshadow its positive influences. Digging in the Crates is working to change the public perception as well as elevate the study of hip-hop culture.

“I like to go against the negative connotation automatically given to graffiti. Some people just see it as people tagging stuff or committing property damage or something like that. But it is far more than that,” said Ethan Quiah, a junior studying business information technology. “It’s a medium to express how you truly feel. It goes far deeper than just someone trying to deface something or commit property damage. It gives you an ability to address the greater issues at hand.”

Through the graffiti workshop, Digging in the Crates was able to shed a positive light on aerosol art, demonstrating how it is an important form of self-expression that can be beneficial to society.

“I think it’s really important for Virginia Tech to provide a space to do this because it allows people to expand creatively and explore new activities, ideas, and mindsets that one wouldn’t have previously seen if they hadn’t gotten this opportunity here,” said Mikaela Saint Hilaire, a junior studying graphic design. 

The importance of graffiti

Graffiti art, a facet of hip-hop culture, serves as a medium for storytelling and can be an outlet for societal change. 

“Graffiti is one of the four major elements of hip-hop. You can’t truly have hip-hop culture if you deny graffiti and its impact from where it started, to how it’s constantly tied into the culture,” said Quiah.

As hip-hop’s most visual element, graffiti has served as a medium for marginalized communities to reclaim public spaces and express cultural identity for decades. The vivid colors, bold lettering, and imaginative designs found in graffiti have been featured on album covers, music videos, and clothing associated with the hip-hop movement and numerous cultures worldwide.

Redefining acceptable art in academia

While graffiti has long been a vibrant form of art in urban culture, it has been, in large part, left out of mainstream academia. 

“It’s important to include hip-hop in academia because it is one of the greatest global cultural forces in the last 50 years. It impacts almost all facets of our popular culture and is truly international in scope,” Arthur said. 

University Libraries has taken steps to highlight hip-hop art in recent years. In addition to hosting aerosol art workshops through Digging in the Crates, a graffiti mural that features Virginia Tech’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), has been displayed on the second floor of Newman Library since it was created in the fall of 2020 during a similar Digging in the Crates program. 

maroon and gray paint spray can graphic element