Defiant tot: I’ll tag again

The Brooklyn Paper
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Let’s hear it for the girl! Natalie Shea, the 6-year-old who became an international media celebrity after the city sent her a warning letter about the chalk “graffiti” on her front stoop, defiantly scribbled more drawings this week after Saturday’s rainstorm washed away the evidence of her original “crime.”

“We just think the whole thing is ridiculous, and we’re showing it,” said Natalie’s mom, Jen Pepperman, who, as the entire world knows now, received the city warning letter last week after a neighbor called 311 to rat out Natalie’s use of sidewalk chalk — chalk! — to make the now-infamous drawing.

After The Brooklyn Paper put Natalie, her art and the warning letter on the front page last week, the story went global. All the local TV stations picked up the story, as did the Daily News, the BBC and the omnipresent Drudge Report.

“This created more controversy than the Bush wiretapping,” said Natalie’s father, George Shea, a public-relations expert. “The uproar has prompted me to suggest that she switch to scratchiti, which is a far more durable art form.”

As a result of this attention, The Brooklyn Paper Web site received several hundred thousand hits and hundreds of comments under the original story.

Virtually every commenter backed Natalie’s right to draw on her own front stoop.

“Chalk on a walkway INSIDE HER FENCE?” said a poster who identified himself as Whiner. “How can ANYONE seriously think there’s ANYTHING wrong with that?”

Of course, this being the Internet, plenty of people took advantage of the discussion to ridicule the “Nanny State,” complain about liberals, rail against conservatives and, naturally, condemn New York City.

“I hate New York,” wrote “Moron Joe.” “You all live in filth and think it is cool. What a pathetic existence.”

Another poster, Mary, added, “That is why no one should live in a city — everyone policing everything. Kids need freedom to play and explore, not regulations. I know, just stick Natalie in front of a TV.”

A New York Sun editorial even used the story as a metaphor for all that is wrong with the city’s 311 system: “They should set up a new system so that New Yorkers can dial a hotline and ask for a new administra­tion.”

Like the Sun, the vast majority of our commentators defended Natalie’s art — as does the law, which criminalizes the use of chalk on a building only when the scrawler lacks the building owner’s permission.

That said, Pepperman still has a week to respond to the city warning letter, which explains that she must remove the graffiti or ask the city to do so.

A Sanitation spokeswoman said last week that if Pepperman does not respond to the letter, the city could issue a $300 ticket if the graffiti is still there.

Like many in the city — and online! — Pepperman will pray for rain — and common sense from bureaucrats.

Yes, but is it art?

Lost in the debate over the legalities of Natalie Shea’s sidewalk chalk “graffiti” is the larger question of art and free expression. To help us determine the quality of Shea’s skill as an artist, we asked Donna Moran, chairperson of Fine Arts at the Pratt Institute, for her sharp-eyed appraisal.

Look out, Natalie, the critics are gunning for you!

“Her ‘graffiti’ is exactly how children draw, especially with chalk on sidewalks,” said Moran. “She has a nice sense of color and line, but it is impossible to tell if she is doing this with intent or just doing it, which would be appropriate at her age. Graffiti is really something that often has social content to it — either internally or externally coming from where it is placed. Calling this child a graffiti artist is really pushing it.”

There you have it, folks: Natalie Shea ain’t no artist.

Gersh Kuntzman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at
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Reader Feedback

rmsavino says:
Are there any Brooklynites out there that remember the game potsy and hop scotch. I can't believe the nonsense because a little girl wrote on the sidewalk. We were in Carroll Garden at a block party not one person knew how to play stoop ball or king. I hate what has happened to this borough. There is a big problem here and you all ought to be seeing it. Growing up and playing in the streets were the best time of my life. Street games were for all to enjoy. Cut the baloney as we say in Brooklyn. RM
Oct. 19, 2007, 4:07 pm
Eddie from Orlando says:
The New York City Bureaucrats need to read the stories. Chalk wears out real fast, thus it really can't be graffitti in my book. Graffitti is permanant paint.
Oct. 20, 2007, 10:02 am
MIB says:
If its the parents property then its a child art! If its public or private property and the city wants it removed, then its graffiti. Any one who thinks otherwise is a moron! The fathers quote that his daughter convert to scratchiti states the fathers civic irresponsibility. Etching & carving cost taxpayer 6 billion a year in replacement cost. Kids learn acceptable behaviors under 10 years of age and carry that behavior into their adult lives.

The question here is, who owns the surface being written upon? If I own it and don't want chalk on it, then its my call, not yours! If I key or scratch the length of you car, you would be the first to demand accountability and restitution, wouldn't you!

Oct. 20, 2007, 1:43 pm
mud says:
MIB: I'm pretty sure the father was kidding about scratchiti.

Also, even if she *were* using sidewalk chalk on a public sidewalk, not just her own house, it would still be idiotic for the city to go after her. It's *sidewalk chalk*.
Oct. 20, 2007, 11:01 pm
Kevin Bracken says:
Hopefully the ticket will be issued, appealed and the unconstitutional ban on sidewalk chalk will be thrown out.

The graffiti law specifically relates to "decreasing the value of property", and chalk expression on the sidewalk does no such thing.
Oct. 22, 2007, 8:10 pm
bob marks says:
Where in the above article does it say, "I will tag again." Where do we get confirmation that she was defiant.
Oct. 22, 2007, 9:06 pm
Goethe Helen Waite says:
I used to draw on Brooklyn sidewalks and streets all the time. How else are you going to make bases for stickball games?
Oct. 22, 2007, 9:10 pm
Judy says:
Kids just want to have fun! What is the problem with that?
Oct. 22, 2007, 9:20 pm
pope183 says:
Is it possible you could pick a more ugly difficult font for this article.? Not Possible ! holy mercy thats an ugly hard to read font...
Oct. 22, 2007, 9:34 pm
Geminate says:
Lock her away forever, she can draw for the rest of her life on the cell floor.
Oct. 22, 2007, 10:22 pm
Mark says:
The law says its graffiti only if the drawing lacks the owners permission. Natalie clearly has her mothers permission to draw on the front steps of her families house. The person who called it in may not have known that. However, now that its known that the girl had permission to draw where she did, SHE IS NOT breaking the law. You can draw whatever you want on your own property (maybe not something explicit or hatefull, but this is a 6-year old were taking about here.) The city sent a letter for a law that wasn't broken.

Its like someone across the street from me calling the cops on my other neighbor because I asked him to toilet paper my tree for Halloween, then, once they find out I asked him to do it, charging him with the crime anyway. Just because a neighbor reports something, it doesn't make it true. So the parents got a letter because someone is a grouch. Its their property, they have a week to respond to the letter from the city. This whole thing could end with one calm phone call, explaining the drawing was on private property, done with permission, and, as such, no law was broken.
Oct. 22, 2007, 10:59 pm
Literatus says:
If it's their stoop, I suppose they can do what they want. But it's terrible parenting when you allow your child to get into the habit of defacing anything. Ever hear of paper?
Oct. 22, 2007, 11:40 pm
yoyo says:
it's CHALK.

it will, like, WASH AWAY!
Oct. 23, 2007, 12:12 am
marylou says:

Maybe we should all shait on lawmakers stoop.
Oct. 23, 2007, 12:14 am
marylou says:

Maybe we should all spit on lawmakers stoop.
Oct. 23, 2007, 12:14 am
Adam Geldersma says:
This situation is a fine example of one of the major problems with America today. The child has done nothing wrong. They are making a big issue out of a non-issue because they don't want to fix the real issues.
Oct. 23, 2007, 2:43 am
SDF says:
Keep in mind it seems NYC is becoming more of a police nanny state with each and every year.

There was a guy who got nailed for "vandalism" of all charges for using chalk-based graffitti from a special dispenser earlier this year....I think that guy was out of line, but vandalism for something that a minute with water hose can clean up is ridiculous.

This is just an extension of that....honestly I think call-ins like that neighbor did should only be legal if prior attempts to reach an agreement failed, or the person the neighbor has an issue with is argumentative. It seems that call-ins have replaced people actually trying to reach an agreement, and that's just sad.
Oct. 23, 2007, 2:47 pm
Jeff says:
Just more proof that the world is full of morons, and most of them are in government.
Oct. 23, 2007, 4:27 pm
PaPa DiOs says:
If her parents own the house that'l be fine.
If they don't that's not so fine.
Restoring that stoop must cost a good dollar or two.
Oct. 23, 2007, 8:31 pm
OmegaWolf747 says:
Props to Natalie and her family for not caving in to the tyranny of the city. In this world of black and gray, we need a splash of color and spontaneity. Those who would condemn these random expressions of individuality might want to move to China or N. Korea, where their ilk are welcome. This is a nation that celebrates originality and self-expression.
Oct. 24, 2007, 11:42 am
DON says:
I said it before, leave the girl alone..let her enjoy life.. don, penna.
Oct. 24, 2007, 7:51 pm

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