Local artist, Mickael Broth, discusses jail and graffiti in his new book

Several years ago, police arrested Mickael Broth for vandalizing property with graffiti and he was sent to jail. He’s now written about the experience, with insight into how we should think about graffiti, prison, and community building.

Update #1 — April 5, 2013; 7:02 AM

Local artist Mickael Broth served ten months in prison after being convicted of vandalizing and destruction of property back in 2004 (see below). His high-profile arrest and story prompted discussions on how to best deter and punish artists who graffiti public and private property.

One of the most important voices in these conversations is Broth himself. He recently released Gated Community, the first of three limited edition books discussing his graffiti and incarceration. Only 200 copies were pressed for the first edition.

Below is an interview discussing his experience, writing, and opinions we conducted via email.

— ∮∮∮ —

How long have you been working on Gated Community?

In a way, this project began while I was still serving my sentence. I was on work and school release during the days and returned to jail every evening to spend the night. During that time, I created a limited edition of handmade and printed books containing art and articles relating to my incarceration.

I didn’t really focus on the experience again until about two years ago when my friend Liz Nolan was rewriting The Count of Monte Cristo in modern times. She asked me to help flesh out some details to give it a bit of authenticity. During our talk she suggested that I really focus on that time in my life and write a book. There seemed to be an interest in the topic, and I felt that enough time had passed that I could look back on the experience with some objectivity.

Tell me about the research work that went into the book

Despite the topic being based around my personal experiences, I did conduct a fair amount of research and reading related to the topics I was writing about. I started by rereading all of the letters between myself and my family from when I was locked up. I wrote multiple letters everyday, so there was so much detail I’d forgotten about over the years. That really helped get me back into the what it felt like to be locked in a box 24 hours a day.

I then began reading up on both of the institutions I served time in: Pamunkey Regional Jail and Richmond City Jail. It was a really interest contrast between the two, and something I’ll address in depth in books two and three.

I read up on other graffiti writers who served lengthy jail sentences and familiarized myself with the state of incarceration in America today. I can’t recommend Gates of Injustice (by Alan Elsner) enough. I was hoping for more scholarly research on the mentality and motivations of graffiti writers, but there really wasn’t much that I found. One book, The Graffiti Subculture, which focused on writers in England, was a decent study but not completely relevant.

Why break the work into three books instead of just one?

I decided to break the book into three parts for a variety of reasons. First, I had instinctively written it in three sections that seemed logical division points: time before jail, time in PRJ, and time in RCJ. Once I decided to self publish, doing three smaller books seemed more feasible as far as cost, shipping, editing, etc.

I’ve also always been a fan of serialized releases, like how Sherlock Holmes books were originally released in installments. In this era where you expect to be able to mainline entire seasons of a TV show over the course of a weekend, I like the idea of being forced to wait for a story to come to fruition.

What does this first book address?

This first book addresses how and why I got into graffiti when I was a teenager. It provides somewhat of a look back at what Richmond was like ten years ago (when I moved here) and points out the gentrification that has occurred during that time. I’d say the climax of the first book is my arrest at my apartment on Franklin Street, or possibly the day I was taken from court to begin serving my jail sentence.

What (if any) takeaways did you get about society as whole from your writing?

I don’t know that I had too many realizations about society while writing this book that I hadn’t already come to beforehand. I certainly understand why people have such vitriolic reactions to graffiti, but I don’t believe that their reactions are warranted. No, it isn’t nice to paint on other people’s property. But at the end of the day, it really is just one color of paint over another.

What would you like readers to come away with?

I’d hope readers would come away with a different perspective on graffiti and incarceration in general. As a society, I feel that we’re expected to accept that everyone in jail is a bad person and that they made decisions that led them to that place. It’s the only way we as a society can stomach the reality that there are over seven million of our fellow citizens in this country under correctional supervision of some variety (mostly for non-violent crimes). Despite my own involvement in graffiti, I wasn’t some career criminal or hoodlum.

My experience in jail is what the average middle class person would be likely to go through if they were incarcerated. It’s something that very few people consider, but really should, if they are fine with how many people are being jailed.

Has your attitude about how graffiti artists are punished changed since you were jailed?

I obviously never felt that jail was an appropriate punishment for graffiti. But I also won’t claim to have a perfect solution or response. Incarceration at the cost of taxpayers is just nonsensical. Put nonviolent offenders to work on community service projects–and not some bullshit task like stacking books at the library. I think the main thing that needs to be addressed is getting people to understand how their actions have an impact on their community. Feeling like you are an important part of your community is essential to preventing people from painting graffiti, slinging drugs, or getting drunk and peeing on somebody’s front porch.

I know it might seem illogical or logistically difficult, but people should feel compelled to attend neighborhood association and planning meetings in order to gain a better understanding of how their actions affect those around them. And naturally, for graffiti, you should be paying restitution.

Gated Community is available for purchase online.

— ∮∮∮ —

Original — August 05, 2011

A young man convicted of defacing property with his graffiti stands before you in a courtroom. You are the judge. What is your sentence? Do you send the man to a year’s worth of probation? Community service? A combination of the two? Or do you send him to jail to teach him, and all like him, a lesson? If you were a judge in the summer of 2004 in either Hanover County or Richmond City, Mickael Broth would have stood before you, gazing up at you sheathed in your black robe and years of experience, awaiting your decision as to his immediate fate.

As with any city, Richmond is rife with graffiti. Even those who appreciate the artistic merit of graffiti will admit that art lettered onto someone else’s property without that someone’s consent is nothing short of a crime. The question then is not, is graffiti criminal? (it most certainly is), but to what extent should law enforcement pursue graffiti artists and subsequently punish them?

"Refuse" tag (Richmond, 2003)

One former graffiti writer based in Richmond, Mickael Broth, fought the law, and the law won quite handily. Some, however, consider his punishment to be excessive and reached beyond the severity of his crimes. His experience prompted him to begin working on a book that will discuss not only his experience as a graffiti writer but the local criminal justice system that halted it.

— ∮∮∮ —

They awoke him on the morning of March 30, 2004 when they banged on his Franklin Street apartment door in the Fan, mere blocks from VCU. Mickael had been asleep in his bed, laying next to his girlfriend, Brionna. Two Hanover County Detectives (one being David Klisz), the Richmond City Police graffiti task force officer (Debbie Allen), a CSX railroad investigator, a VCU police officer, and a several other law enforcement officials barged in–some with their guns drawn. The shocked and nonplussed couple, still in their underwear, stared at the menacing eyes and drawn guns that starred at them right back.

Someone handcuffed Mickael. Another presented him with a search warrant. Over the next hour, authorities squirreled away items–evidence–in plastic bags. In the meantime, officers moved Mickael into his kitchen. They told him that his friends, who lived across the street, would also have their apartment raided. According to Mickael, he and the officers brokered a deal: his friends home would not be raided and he would not be taken into custody, so long as Mickael turned himself in later that day. He did. Not knowing this at the time, he was about to commit himself to the inner-workings of a criminal justice system at its wits end with graffiti writers and to the city’s penal system.

— ∮∮∮ —

Mickael, who at the time was a dean-listed Fine Arts major at VCU, knows what led police to make a case against him. “It was a CSX railroad bridge,” he says, in an email correspondence. He wrote the words “REFUSE” on the railroad bridge which stretches over Interstate 295 just east of U.S. 301. The writing covered four lanes of traffic. “It was the real motivation,” says Mickael, “for the police to build a case and track me down.”

Many jurisdictions do not have statutes that deliberately mention the act of graffiti, relying instead on existing statutes such as property damage and vandalism. Michael was originally charged by Hanover County prosecutors with two felonies for vandalism damage, which were reduced to misdemeanors as a result of a plea agreement (in Virginia, property damage that exceeds $1,000 is an ipso facto felony). He was sentenced on July 20, 2004. Mickael describes that day: “My family was there,” he says, “and I just felt an overwhelming sense of sickness for what I was putting them through.”

"REFUSE" on a CSX bridge over I-295; the piece that led to Mickael's arrest (Richmond, 2004)

He stood before Hanover County Circuit Judge John Richard Alderman (who later that year, would be convicted of a DUI charge). In the middle of Mickael’s courtroom apology, Alderman interrupted Mickael.

“How many others [i.e. graffiti pieces] did you do?”

“Quite a few,” said the defendant, wearing a thrift-store suit.

In Virginia, legal statutes 18.2 137-143 concern themselves with the vandalizing and destruction of property. The Commonwealth also offers voluntary sentencing guidelines, a mathematical formula that judges are free to use, but to which they are not legally beholden. According to Tracy Thorne-Begland, Deputy Commonwealth Attorney for the city of Richmond, judges typically considers the nature of a defendant’s offense, the amount and cost of the damage, as well as the defendant’s prior offenses. Mickael was charged with damaging state property within Richmond in 2002, a charge that was later dismissed in April 2003 after he completed 15 hours of community service.

Judge Alderman announced his decision. He sentenced Mickael to roughly five months in prison. “My sentencing is still somewhat of a blur in my mind,” says Mickael. Alderman also forced Mickael to pay $7,060 recompense the county for the costs of cleaning the defaced railroad bridge stretching across I-295.

For Mickael this was only the beginning.

— ∮∮∮ —

“I was immediately taken to the bullpen”, he says, “which is the holding cell they have behind all court rooms and chained together with a few other inmates who were there. We were then loaded onto a transport vehicle and driven the short distance to Pamunkey Regional Jail. There I was strip searched and traded the thrift store suit I had purchased the previous week for a set of blue coveralls that would serve as my uniform. New inmates were kept in a cold, solitary cell the first night without bedding or shoes.”

For the first two months officials moved him between a barracks-style housing unit or a double man cell. Shortly after his incarceration, Mickael was tried in a Richmond City courthouse, where he was convicted for vandalism offenses within the city and sentenced to additional jail time. He would spend a total of roughly 10 months in prison.

Two months after full-time confinement in the Pamunkey facility, Mike began a work-release program “basically working doubles six days a week at Tobacco Company Restaurant in Shockoe.” He would be released around 6am. After finishing work, Mickael returned to the jail by midnight. “I would generally be left sitting outside for at least an hour after using the intercom to notify the guards that I had returned. The longest I ever spent waiting to be let back in was four hours, meaning I work about 14 hours only to return to jail, get roughly four hours of sleep, then work another 14 hours.”

A drawing done while incarcerated at Pamunkey Regional Jail (Hanover, VA 2004)

In 2004 local prosecutors placed a high premium on deterring graffiti writers. “We had a real focus on it back then,” says Tracy Thorne-Begland, Deputy Commonwealth Attorney for the city of Richmond. Although the city does not distinguish graffiti-related crimes within the broader categories of property damage and vandalism, hence making it difficult to cull graffiti-specific data, Thorne-Begland has seen a drop-off. “I would like to believe that there was a deterrent effect.”

But did the whip-cracking of Richmond City and Hanover County go too far?

“I briefly shared a cell with someone who had served 22 years for attempted murder and had been brought back in on a parole violation,” says Mickael, recounting his jail time. He reflects upon that particular arrangement as “beyond endangerment:” A graffiti writer in the same confined space as a “violent offender who had committed numerous crimes while serving his attempted murder charge” was punitively extraneous. “Placing human beings in cages with animals turns them into animals.”

— ∮∮∮ —

In a rather serendipitous arrangement, Mickael’s December 2004 release coincided with his and Brionna’s anniversary. “We spent the day together and started talking seriously about wedding plans.” He also celebrated with a Newcastle, his first beer since the onset of his incarceration.

Although at times “caged” with animals in prison, Mickael is no animal. He is married, owns a home, and now wants to document his unique experience in a book, an idea encouraged by his wife and a friend. “It got me thinking about the relevance of what I had experienced and the broader context of incarceration in America. I hope the book will at the very least provide a counterpoint to the notion that involvement in ‘street culture’ is somehow an easy ticket to an easy career in art.”

“Outside that media interest,” says Captain Michael Trice of the Hanover County Sheriff’s Department of the publicity that accumulated in the aftermath of Mickael’s arrest, “…we haven’t had an overt crack-down [on graffiti].” When asked if there were any known, current graffiti writers vandalizing property, Cap. Trice says, “I’m not aware of any in Hanover.”

A "REFUSE" tag on an abandoned building

Ample time for reflection, with all the introspection that comes from taking the long view has built a metaphor in Mickael’s mind to describe graffiti: addiction.

“The feeling of exhilaration that comes from ‘getting away with it’ provides a physical rush,” he says, “while the planning that goes into paints, spots, and stealing supplies becomes an all consuming lifestyle.” While he does not explicitly regret the years he spent as a graffiti writer, Mickael has become incredulous as to the art’s long-term upsides. “Knowing the risks involved is like the opposite of playing the lottery; instead of being sure you will win, you delude yourself into thinking you are bound to get away with it.”

— ∮∮∮ —

To help foster and fund his book project, Mickael has partnered with United States Artists (USA), a public charity that aims to connect people with artists through tax-deductible contributions “to projects in the performing, visual, media, and literary arts.” The book is tentatively titled Gated Community. “I had shown some of my drawings and letters from jail in an art show in New York shortly after my release in a show I called ‘Gated Community.’ The title has stuck with me as an amusing and logical way to address the idea of serving time. It puts an odd spin on the term, considering that most of the people in jail are those that gated communities are built to keep out.”

He hopes that the book will be more than a mere graffiti-related memoir. “I want to address the privatization of what were formally public services in America, specifically the prison system. The main thesis of his book has been tapped to be an examination of public and private jail facilities. As more services are privatized, the government begins to lose not only it’s relevance, but its ability to regulate or fill the void, should private industry fail at providing a service adequately. However, private corporations are often much better equipped to provide quality services than the government. I witnessed both sides, and I saw value and danger in both.”

He has already begun drafting the book; the money raised through USA will afford him the ability to take on the book’s writing as a full-time endeavor. “While I will be able to discuss my personal experiences well enough, I know the story needs to fit into a broader context. That will require research and planning.”

— ∮∮∮ —

It seems that Mickael’s book is not meant to justify his behavior, but to explore its many nuances and repercussions. Mickael’s assessment of graffiti, after all, is different than that of much of the public, to say nothing of the police and courts: “Painting on brick or metal does not damage it; it is not destruction of property,” says Mickael. “It is simply one color of paint over another.” But he does not hold the opinion that graffiti writers should vandalize with impunity, just that their judgement is commensurate with their offense.

“Graffiti writers are a menace in the same way that people who litter are. Their crimes are rude and ignorant, but they should be punished in a manner that fits their crime. They should pay restitution and serve community service, and this does not mean painting out other graffiti or stacking books in a library, it means they should be put to work painting murals and doing outreach with at risk youth.” Currently, there are no such measures in Hanover County or in Richmond.

Mickael knows better than most the public’s perturbation toward the presence of graffiti writers, especially those who, as Mickael did, go to extraordinary lengths to scrawl that presence on a building or bridge. “In a society there will always be those individuals who want to exist outside of the established norms,” says Mickael. “In a way, that makes them just as much a part of society.” Their cavalier compositions do more than merely tickle admirers or annoy detractors; they help establish what we, as the public, label both proper and improper.

“They help define what is considered normal.”


photograph of Mickael Broth by Greg Bethmann, all other photographs courtesy of Mickael Broth

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Donna on said:

    Quick, someone go paint graffiti art on his home. Let’s see if it’s property damage or not once he actually owns the property, and thus has to put it back the way it was.

  2. This put me in the way-back machine to NYC in the late ’70s, when subway graffiti was rampant. You could see through one subway car window out of 20, with taggers battling for supremacy with spray cans. It got to the point where you had to show ID to buy spray paint in hardware stores anywhere in the tri-state area.

    Sometime in ’78, I started seeing what looked like chalk drawings on subway station walls that looked like a radiant baby. They were everywhere, and as soon as they were washed off … they’d reappear somewhere nearby.

    By 1980, we knew the artist’s name: Keith Haring. His philosophy: break down the barriers between high and low art. He became overtly political, fighting apartheid, the crack epidemic, and AIDS awareness. He was a one-man street-art evangelist who had the city looking at graffiti in a new way, who successfully commercialized his street-art sensibility, who changed the NY art scene forever.

    Who died of AIDS-related complications in 1999.

    Mickael’s REFUSE campaign landed him in jail, which is kind of predictable here in Jimbobwe. I remember plenty of kids winding up in Spofford or Rikers during NYC’s war on graffiti – which, I believe, still continues in the subways.

    Draconian punishment for defacement of property wastes public resources that would be better spent giving artists an outlet – kid art programs that work to brighten blighted neighborhoods. Public art programs that encourage established artists to work with rising talent.

    Incarceration seems the ultimate cruelty for an art crime.

  3. Matt on said:

    Great article on a generally mysterious Richmond celeb! Thanks!

  4. So, he did tens of thousands of dollars damage to other people’s property and got caught and had to spend 10 months in jail. Boo F-ing Hoo! In reality, he probably did over $100,000 damage to property. Crazy idea, if you don’t want to spend time in same jail cell with violent criminals, don’t do thousands of dollars of vandalism.
    An “art crime”???? What’s artistic about spray painting “REFUSE SEEK” on the side of bridges, buildings, etc? Can I claim to be an artist and go around throwing bricks through people’s windows? Yeah, my “statement” is “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones….” It ain’t art, it’s vandalism.

  5. financial restitution was definitely justified. Incarceration and the twilight raid were not. Don’t just be outraged because the artist is not poor and dark-skinned, as i’m sure some of you share his demographic and can’t imagine being brought down to rub shoulders with the low SES folks in the pen, but because the people who were affected weren’t intelligent enough get some service of utility out of a gifted artist. Even Charlottesville has a wall dedicated to graffiti.

  6. I adore your writing, Nathan. I also adore art crime, art criminals, and those who, as Mickael says “exist outside of the established norms”. Can’t wait to read the book.

  7. Brandon on said:

    I don’t feel the slightest bit bad for him. It’s hard to even defend his work as art, as it isn’t the least bit inspired or clever. I think people used to carve “refuse” in the desk at my middle school, but then they grew up… or maybe they just got arrested.

  8. Dave on said:

    OK, let me get this straight. A prolific graffiti writer and “dean-listed Fine Arts major at VCU” is shocked to discover that when caught, he is not seen as “helping to define what is normal.” Surprise! The statutes Mickael Broth was convicted of violating define society’s sense of normal, and police knocking on his door reflect society’s method of upholding societal norms. Did he really believe we needed yet another no-talent vandal (look at the CSX bridge picture; do you see art?) to determine our boundaries? The fact that a task force to combat graffiti even existed showed what a problem it had become at the time.

    Once convicted, he believed he should be able to escape real punishment by “painting murals and doing outreach with at risk youth.” I would submit that the way to be commissioned to paint murals is to first show through your portfolio that you actually have artistic talent. And what prevented him from sharing whatever skills he possessed with youth at risk, without defacing other peoples’ property?

    Crimes such as graffiti writing, defacement, vandalism, property destruction and the like are in reality those of a selfish, immature, self-centered bully believing that “I can do this and there is nothing you can do to stop me.” They frequently involve other associated offenses such as trespassing and theft. Read his words: “The feeling of exhilaration that comes from ‘getting away with it’ provides a physical rush,” he says, “while the planning that goes into paints, spots, and stealing supplies becomes an all consuming lifestyle.”

    Prior to the crimes that sent him to jail, he was sentenced to community service for damaging state property. Apparently that 15 hours of service was not enough to help him mature. Society is more than justified in severely punishing repeat offenders such as Mickael Broth when they have been given the chance to act responsibly but do not.

  9. Stephen on said:

    There are some beautiful murals in Richmond (many by Ed Trask), and there is a lot of beautiful mural work done by graffiti artists in the world. I would love to see more murals, or public art that shows some real talent, creativity and artistic merit. I’m not sure I would consider this sort of tagging to have artistic merit, but maybe I’m an old fuddy-duddy.

  10. Public facing walls belong to the public, not to the building owners. No law should require that marks made by the public be necessarily buffed and no law should allow the building owner to sell the use of the visual space to a commercial enterprise.

  11. While I enjoyed the article itself, I have to question how much this is white privilege rearing its head when this young white male artist can get a book written and have his grievances aired (through a news story & a book) about the criminal justice system after he engaged in criminal activity. It’s a shame someone with as much privilege as he did (higher education, etc.) now feels it’s unfair for him to be punished for his crimes (not only did he deface property, he also says he stole supplies).

    I feel that asking to be “punished” by working with art & at-risk youth is laughable. Why on earth would you ask someone who got in trouble for their illegal art to work with kids on their art? It stands to reason that he might impart some of his not-so-great ideals to those who are *already* at-risk, thus leading them down the path to being more at-risk. That’s not a great outcome.

  12. There’s always going to be those who continue to condemn a man for crimes he’s already paid for, shutting out any possibility for understanding and enlightenment. That can’t be helped.

    However, for those that interested in what Mike has to say, here is the link to help fund his self-made book. Donate a little if you want his side of the story.


  13. I don’t understand how society benefits from having non-violent people locked up. He screwed up and should have had to pay restitution and done some additional community service.

  14. anonymous on said:

    Figure out how much graffiti is done by VCU students (now that would be some good information for a follow up article) and send a bill to VCU administration for at least some of the costs of cleaning up after it. Citizens are tired of paying for VCU’s students’ vandalism. Its also criminal the way the administration downplays the problems they foist on the City.

    Graffiti vandals should not do the crime if they can’t do the time. But sure, there is a question of the societal costs of all the jailing. Here’s a good alternative deterrent- Upon conviction, automatically kick graffiti students out of school. Pile on fines and community service.

    While I can appreciate a good public mural or political message, after interacting with just a few local graffiti vandals, I have come to the conclusion that many taggers are little better than dogs that piss everywhere. Most of them are simply bad artists with really big, fragile egos who don’t really care about Richmond overall. On top of that, some of them are cowardly, sociopaths who have substance abuse problems. In my opinion, Richmond is not just rife with graffiti, it is lousy with it. And these ‘artists’ are common louses.

  15. Hey anonymous, maybe VCU students are tired of being your doctors and engineers and counselors and nurses. I bet VCU has done more for this City than you have.

  16. anonymous on said:

    Gee, Jay, I would hope that VCU, with 30,000 students, has done more for Richmond than little ‘ol me.

    But the fact is that its not just graffiti we are talking about here- maybe some of these budding engineers can figure out how organize a yard sale or clean up after themselves.

    Today’s Times Dispatch –


    “Every year, on the first of August, when Virginia Commonwealth University students move out of their apartments and a new batch of students moves in, the alleys of Richmond’s Fan District become a prime dumping ground.”

  17. I’ve very much enjoyed the words REFUSE SEEK and always wondered about their origins and appreciated their legibility. Outsider artists who break the law with their art don’t belong in prison for they pose no danger to the public. Fitting the punishment to the crime is a mark of a thoughtful society.

  18. Ashleigh Hardy on said:

    The whole point of Broth’s prosecution and incarceration was to deter him and others from committing future offenses. In Broth’s case, it was a success as he is now obviously a successful contributing member of the citizenry.

    Also, the author spelled the names of the Hanover officials wrong.

  19. @Ashleigh Hardy – thank you for pointing out the spelling errors. We’ve made the necessary changes.

  20. Mike Cool on said:

    I’m glad we’ve made the leap from graffiti to VCU to trash in the alleys. Surely someone can weave some rising rent costs, unemployment woes, and Obama economics to truly flesh out this nut job comment thread.

    I also really hope that one day Richmond can obtain what I only imagine will be some sort of Twilight Zone-esque relationship with the hyper-radical insanity of it’s public university and the confusing, regressive, “I wish I lived in the suburbs, but bought a house in the city” ideologues who seem to comprise organizations like the FDA. Because otherwise I think this small southern town will crush under the weight of the conflict. How about those RAMS!? How about their Trash?! Surely the money that the successful school brings into our local economy every fall can afford some additional trash pick-ups.

    I won’t even bother mentioning racial tensions. Oh yeah graffiti, we were talking about graffiti. Well heightened law-enforcement awareness and harsher punishment never fails to get rid of criminal activity, so surely soon we’ll be rid of the artistic menace!

    Carry on.

  21. anonymous on said:

    How about the “come from the suburbs, don’t know how to live the city and don’t care because I am out of here in four years” mentality of too many students?

    Is there no sympathy for the “I bought a house in the city a long time ago but did not realize it was eventually going to be overrun with selfish vandals” mentality?

    You know there is a large middle ground of students and people in general who understand and appreciate city living, love music and art of all kinds, enjoy the energy and youth from the university, but think it could be even better if there was more of an emphasis on respect and an end to vandalism.

  22. Mike Cool on said:

    Listen I’m with ya. I wish every incoming student respected/loved this city and treated it as such. But I’m also not so naive to think that if I invited 30,000 18-21 year olds to my city that there wouldn’t be some bad that comes with the good. Regardless I feel like foisting the blame on VCU for graffiti and trash in Richmond is absurd.

    If you look at European countries, for instance, where less money is spent on eradicating graffiti and punishing artists, the artform flourishes and often bridges the gap between plain old vandalism and the art we see in galleries and museums. In the U.S. on the other hand we’ve spent large sums of money to arrest and prosecute, not to mention buff and paint over graffiti. This hasn’t stopped graffiti it has just marginalized it. Artists have less time to work on pieces resulting in the mundane scribbling of a tag we’re most familiar with these days.

    Clearly we can choose to foster creativity in this city or stifle it with reactionary graffiti laws and noise ordinances. If you truly “enjoy the energy and youth from the university” (and I mean all of it) then I suggest you reevaluate how Richmond as a city can transfer it into positive action.

  23. Shon on said:

    First, Mickael B. is a really nice person and abstract thinker. He is something no straight laced person in this square assed town can contend with or relate to….but he is a good man. He didn’t hurt anyone. He didn’t assault anyone. He didn’t rob anyone. He didn’t rape anyone. He just painted on some old ugly ass, crappy, rusty bridge over some bland ass highway, in hick county USA. I bet the cost of “cleaning” that ugly piece of sh*t bridge pales in comparison to the tax dollars it took to house and feed him for 10 months. Maybe his tag should have been a good excuse for CSX to go paint that rusty junk anyway and inspect it too, since it looks like it could fall down over the highway and possibly injure or kill motorists? There should have been another way for him to pay his penance. Yea…I don’t agree with this punishment for this crime. And one more thing for you complainers that move into the city/fan and complain about things that happen in a city…stop being little bitches! If you live in the fan and you don’t like students and their habits, or someone throwing out a sofa in your precious little alley or vandalism or whatever….move your ass out to a gated community or something, where you can feel safe, and have everything just as perfect as you need. Ever been to NYC? Man they pile their trash pretty high on those sidewalks!

  24. anonymous on said:

    “hick county USA” to you is somebody’s else’s neighborhood. There’s that lack of respect.

    And the other extreme you use, NYC, is light years from how most Richmonders want to live. Most Richmonders may like visiting NYC, but would never think of living there. Why don’t all the graffiti vandals and their sympathizers move there?

    Even NYC has done more to recognize it’s trash problem, and is doing more to recycle. Is that really so much to ask of VCU and Richmond in general.

    I would write more, but I have to get up and go to work. Thankfully, I was not woken up by drunk, loud students last night and get some decent sleep.

  25. fandweller on said:

    Did anyone read this article?

    “It seems that Mickael’s book is not meant to justify his behavior, but to explore its many nuances and repercussions.”

    Was the crime a little severe? Maybe, but the book that he is planning on compiling is not going to be a memoir where he complains about how unfair life is. It is meant to be a look in to his decisions, where he gained, where he lost, and how they changed his life. It should also provide a valuable perspective in to what it is like on the inside and how that experience has shaped him as an individual.

    I don’t think that the point of this article was to say that what happened to Mickael was wrong or incorrect. It was intended(as most objective literary works are) to spark a debate and pose a question. And that question had nothing to do with college students (and 18 to 21 year olds in general) being loud and/or messy and/or not fully formed contributing members to society. Young people do young people things. Growing up, getting out on your own, making those mistakes, and having those experiences are integral to the process of becoming a (hopefully responsible) adult.

    Whether you appreciate the artistic merit of the graffiti artist or think it’s just a bunch of stupid squiggles on the side of the building, there is something to be learned (or thought about) no matter which side of the fence you find yourself sitting on.

  26. anonymous,
    Some VCU students act like jerks, but the fact is that most Richmond leases end sometime in the summer.
    VCU kids litter, but so do visitors, adults, UR kids, and every other type of person.
    VCU kids drink, yell, and commit acts of vandalism, but so do high school kids and old men and everyone else.

  27. Shay on said:

    As a graffiti artist coming from Perth, Australia aka the most isolated city in the world, I guess we learned to form our own opinions and ideals about a graffiti mentality and the motivation behind a consuming lifestyle such as the one we lead. It’s not the personal motivation, it’s the collective idea. It’s the question itself, not the answers we try to provide. The fact a tag on the street can make you angry, or happy, or provoke awe or hatred, that is the real (re)action. The action of vandalism itself bears the artistic value. This is emotion, human compassion, something we should all be able to relate to. I started graffiti as a teenager, full of feeling, wondering why, cliche growing up bullshit. I drew tags and pieces out of something born of a fire inside. This was vandalism. Now, 7 years later, I’m in galleries, i make money. The work I do is considered “art”, even though, ironically, to me, it still is vandalism. I don’t deny that.
    All I’m saying is you need to look beyond the result of graffiti. The grime and ugly exterior. Because the people who paint it are oddly the most interesting and internally complex people I have met. And they range from homeless to wealthy, white to black and everything in between. Their individual motivation is ever-changing but there is a common thread – mortality. If you were to die tomorrow, what the fuck would YOU have left on this earth. Writing on walls may be a feeble attempt at legacy but most of these “talentless” young lads will live on in our minds far longer than most of you, Internet trolling, arguing-over-nothing worthless lives.

  28. samIam on said:


    I’m glad you think so much of yourself (ves) and so little of the rest of us. Obviously, some of us feel the same way about you.

  29. Shon on said:

    I really think FANDWELLER hit it on the head. You have a great perspective on this article. I wish we could all have that outlook of reverence….but I admit I like the stir the pot a bit…and my statements to people that live in a city still stand. If you don’t like it leave it. Go be ANONYMOUS somewhere else.

  30. anonymous on said:

    Nope. Not leaving. Been here before many of you decided to vandalize our city. Here before VCU blew up.

  31. anonymous on said:

    I find it very depressing that RVANews.com insists on giving this person even more promotional space. There are far more worthy local artists who did not vandalize our city.

    In the time between when this interview first appeared and this ‘update’, there has been more illegal graffiti. The result has been more VCU students being thrown out of school and more residents who have left the city because they were tired of dealing with and paying for the vandalism and nuisances.

    On a more positive not, there has been more organized, legal, public mural efforts that have much less to do with the sick narcism of criminals like Michael Broth.

  32. Ross Catrow on said:

    @anonymous, Broth was one of the muralists who participated in last year’s RVA Street Art Fest. Here’s an article we did about his collaboration with an 11-year-old artist from Chesterfield: http://rvanews.com/entertainment/brush-with-broth-creates-a-lasting-memory-for-eleven-year-old-jarred-barr/62429

  33. ShivBalls! on said:


  34. Brian Crigler on said:

    Michael has always been a talented artist good to see he has found a more positive outlet for his art with writing a book and with murals for the City of Richmond.

  35. marco on said:

    i like all the comments up there from 2011 – it’s like the people commenting didn’t even read the article or the guys own words.

  36. pto on said:

    I just had my house spray painted “SEEK”… not art. Seek what… a job?
    Graffiti is simply an attempt to claim ownership of something the vandals do not own. It’s a cheap hack, a way to boost one’s ego. Its a joke. If you want to make “art”, use you own canvas, not MY property. Knock on my door an ask me if i want your garbage plastered on my wall.

  37. Great art opening man! You are a part of Richmond and you’ve had a great influence on a lot of artists. Graffiti is a way of life and it’s not really going anywhere. I have to laugh at the people who ignorantly try to diagnose graffiti with poorly constructed thoughts about socio-economic drivel and ownership. No one who appreciates this culture is interested in reading self-masterbatory statements by knuckleheads who want to let someone know how mad they are in order to make themselves feel empowered that someone may have read their complaint. That attitude is best suited for a Young Republican meeting or maybe a Stand Your Ground fan club.
    I look forward to seeing more of your work and more art openings and a new wave of graffiti writers as well.

  38. Pete Mansfield on said:

    Mickael Broth’s hideous “Total Waste of Paint” one-fool show in the Museum District is beneath contempt. Let’s get this crap removed ASAP.

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