Although Austin likes to think of itself as unique, the website legal-walls.net keeps track of some 1,500 public walls around the world on which painting graffiti is legal. The art form has come a long way since the 1960s, when most people associated it with defaced subway cars in New York City. Many cities now actively encourage street artists, and graffiti walls have become tourist attractions.
In Austin, HOPE—“Helping Other People Everywhere”—estimates that roughly 1,000 people come to the gallery, also known as Graffiti Park, each day. Some, like Dustin Switzer, a 23-year-old exhaust welder from Lansing, Mich., come to get inspiration for their next tattoos: Switzer says, “You see what a lot of people are made of, what their hearts are dedicated to.”
In the early days artists had to get permission to paint. Now almost anyone equipped with a can of spray paint can make a mark. Local graffiti artist SEAZR said when school is out kids “come with a couple of dollar cans they bought at Home Depot to have some fun and express themselves.”