Artists 4 Israel bring some color to Sderot

Int'l artists beautify city’s bomb shelters.

Sderot graffiti 311 (photo credit: RON FRIEDMAN)
Sderot graffiti 311
(photo credit: RON FRIEDMAN)
“Unfortunately, people here have to live with bomb shelters. We’re heredoing a little something to bring some color to something that’s herefor an ugly reason,” said American graffiti artist Cycle, summing upperfectly the aim of the Artists 4 Israel mission to Israel.
Tuesday was the group’s third day in Sderot, where urban artists fromthe United States, Spain, Mexico and Israel have been busy beautifyingthe bombarded city’s public bomb shelters.
The “Murality Project” is all about sending a message of support to the residents of Sderot.
“We couldn’t be here to build the bomb shelters or fight in the war,but we can help the people fight the debilitating effects, which arejust as bad,” said Craig Dershowitz, president of Artists 4 Israel, anonprofit advocacy group. “We can step in and help reignite the citythat has suffered for so long, with our artwork.”
Participating in the project are 25 artists, including some of the topnames in New York City’s urban art scene. In Sderot, the group ofnon-Jewish, American and international artists joined Israelis tocontribute their talent to beautify the city.
“Some of the artists here are used to being flown first-class andhoused in five-star hotels for commissioned work. Here they sleep onthe floor, six people to a room at the local yeshiva building,” saidDershowitz. “They contributed valuable time and art that can sometimesbe sold for as much as $10,000, expressing their support for Sderot andIsrael.
“There tends to be a misconception that the arts community is liberaland as such doesn’t support Israel. The truth is that those who do areoftentimes silent,” said Dershowitz.
“The graffiti community is never silent,” he continued. “Israel asvictim doesn’t resonate with the machismo mindset of graffiti artists,but Israel as a strong, proud defender of its freedoms does… Themessage of ‘don’t f*** with us!’ sits well with the graffiti mindset.”
Sderot spokesman Shalom Halevi said that the artists’ “can-do” attitude was apparent from the start.
“On the first evening after their arrival, once we’d welcomed them,they were eager to hit the streets. At 10:30 at night, after landingfrom a nine-hour flight, they were roaring to go and immediately wentto work on nearby walls. They painted into the night and only finishedat two o’clock in the morning,” said Halevi.
“That’s the kind of attitude you can’t help but admire. Their work hereis extremely welcome, both for the aesthetic benefit for the city andthe moral support.”
Halevi said that ever since the rockets stopped falling regularly,Sderot has been neglected by both the government and many of thephilanthropic organizations that had assisted the city in the past.
“It feels good to see that people in faraway countries are still thinking about us,” he said.
Keeping Sderot in the headlines is the main goal of the Sderot Media Center.
“We’re constantly on the lookout for creative initiatives and theArtists 4 Israel Murality Project was a perfect fit for us,” said JacobShrybman, an activist with the center.
Shrybman said the media coverage that the project generated was athrowback to the days of Operation Cast Lead and the months leading upto it, when Sderot appeared in the papers daily.
“It’s important for us to let people know that as the world fixates onGaza, in Sderot, 3,000 new bomb shelters are being constructed inanticipation of the next round of combat,” Shrybman said.
“You can still feel the tension in the air. People aren’t at ease,”said Saul Schister, a graffiti artist from Texas, who is currently inIsrael as part of a Young Judea one-year program.
“One of the artists was working with headphones on, listening to music,and a resident came up to him and yelled at him. He told him that itwas dangerous because with the headphones on, he wouldn’t be able tohear the sirens,” said Schister. “I guess that for them, these bombshelters on every street are a constant reminder that they live in awar zone.”

Even for the Israelis in the group, the visit to Sderot was a first.For the young man working under the moniker Psycho, painting publicbuildings with the permission of the municipality was something of anovelty.
“I used to paint illegally, but then I was caught by the police. Since then I’ve been doing commissioned work,” he said.
“I don’t really care about the politics. For me it’s more about theart. But I know that the people here have had a rough time and if mywork can help, I’m happy to do it. So far people’s reactions have beenreally positive. Some people have even asked if we can come paint theirhouse.”
Dershowitz said he hoped that after their time in Israel the artistswill be able to go back to where they came from as strong advocates forIsrael and with a better understanding of the reality on the ground.
“After spending more than a week working side-by-side with Israeliartists – living with them, eating with them and traveling the lengthand breadth of the country with their Israeli peers – the New Yorkersare going to have a lot of positive experiences to share when they gethome,” he said.
“We hope they will then tell people about a different side to Israelthan usually gets reported in the media, a country not defined by pastconflicts but filled with a vibrant youth culture looking towards abright future for everyone in the region.”