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.