As Bogota Transforms, Holistic Planning is Needed – by Ana Maria Camelo Vega. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

As Bogota Transforms, Holistic Planning is Needed – by Ana Maria Camelo Vega. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

WhatsApp Image 2018-09-30 at 4.40.44 PM

This week, Hyperallegic, an art and culture digital platform, published an article talking about the street murals of my hometown, Bogota. While it was an interesting read regarding Colombian culture and history, I personally found it lacked key facts that shift the key elements of the story.

With nearly 9 million people, Bogota has been growing at an exponential rate for the past 50 years. Urbanization, along with gentrification, have challenged local and national governments as it has been hard to create sustainable policies that keep up with such growth. Bogota’s transformation is therefore undeniable.
Characterized by its narrow-cobbled streets, La Candelaria constitutes an abandoned national heritage for Colombia. The neighborhood is recognized for being part of the foundational center of the city. Additionally, it is still the administrative and cultural epicenter of both Bogotá and Colombia. Following the Decree 263 of 1963, La Candelaria’s architecture is categorized as a national monument. However, the current problematic regarding the street murals revolves around the political conflict between artists and authorities. The legal flexibility in terms of street art has allowed for an overproduction of graffiti that violate private property. Considering the colonial architecture and heritage in the neighborhood, La Candelaria’s street murals present a challenge for the Mayor and City Planning.

Last year, the administration initiated the restoration process for 4,000 units in the neighborhood. The rationale behind this was to revitalize the neighborhood by repairing damps, cracks, fissures, and repainting walls. The perspectives and reactions are divided. It is important to understand that while there has been an increase in street art and murals, there has also been an increase in, what some people consider, vandalism.

Let’s compare these two images:

[The North Star Reports gratefully acknowledges Vilma Vega and Alfredo Camelo for these images]

To a significant percentage of the city’s population, these two images represent opposite realities. The mural shown in the first photograph is often associated with vandalism, abandonment, poverty and criminality. On the other hand, the mural shown in the second photograph is associated with culture, history, art, and tourism. That becomes the main challenge: two opposite realities, one same neighborhood. The fine line differentiating art and vandalism is what changes public perception on this issue.
For homes such as Cecilia Laverde’s, it might be better to maintain the historic plain painting instead of a graffiti they did not participated in in their façade. For city tour guides, it is better to maintain the graffiti around the neighborhood to attract tourism and culture. Ironically, many artists have complained as graffiti tour guides are profiting at the artists’ expense.

Here, I think it is also important to clarify the local government’s position on the issue. Cristina Lleras, who works for the city’s secretary of culture, affirms the intention behind the restoration policies and laws is to “promote and regulate graffiti in the city”. As it can be seen in the following tweet “Bogota is a Graffiti District. Our bet is for a colorful city rich in urban art to enjoy”, Enrique Peñalosa, the city’s Mayor, aims to create a cultural city by supporting what he calls ‘responsible street art’. The effectiveness of this initiative, however, is still questionable. It is unclear what the limits are in terms of street art. What is considered art? What is considered vandalism? What is the definition of ‘responsible street art’?

I do think it is possible to integrate street art as part of La Candelaria. While it is vital to preserve historical architecture, it is also vital to adopt policies that integrate natural changes across the city. One of the ways in which this transformation is possible is by partnering up with struggling artists that do not have access to a gallery representation and incentivize them to create meaningful art in public areas, instead of invading private property. This tactic was implemented in Miami. In 2002, “graffiti artists delighted in the blank, ugly walls of the abandoned warehouses. Soon their art became synonymous with Wynwood.” Through this initiative, the Wynwood Walls became a touristic attraction and a neighborhood asset; they currently draw thousands of people every month, even tourist streetscape tours.

At the same time, it is necessary that the current administration works with the different stakeholders, including artists from different backgrounds, political and social activists as they utilize murals to express their opinion, residents, graffiti tour guides, and city planners. Allowing for participation and holistic planning in this issue will facilitate the implementation and durability of any intended restoration by the Mayor.

Through the adoption of art as an asset for La Candelaria, the sense of belonging and the cultural identity will be reinforced. It is necessary to create citizen ownership and boost the touristic activity in the neighborhood. This will expand the cultural exchange within the community, boost local economic growth, and exemplify social inclusivity, sustainability and innovation.

Ana Maria Camelo Vega serves as a senior editor for The North Star Reports

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at)

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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy ( is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our guiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In five years we have published over 300 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our volunteer student editors and writers come from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors ( We have an all volunteer staff. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang and NSR Student Editors and Writers. For a brief summary of our history, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

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Filed under Ana Maria Camelo Vega, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

30 responses to “As Bogota Transforms, Holistic Planning is Needed – by Ana Maria Camelo Vega. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

    • DyAnna Grondahl

      Ana Maria,

      I so appreciate having the opportunity to read this. I am enthralled by the complexities within the issues you discuss and the questions you put forward, specifically: What is considered art? What is considered vandalism? What is the definition of ‘responsible street art’? I was also very interested in the Wynwood Wall project you mentioned from 2002. I think that initiative carries a lot of weight in that it provides talented individuals with an opportunity to display their art publicly. Is this something being actively pursued for Bogota at this time? Considering the cultural context with which the case for street art is so well argued, are there any stipulations specifically about who can create their street art in the city? I am also highly interested in your article, because I feel like street isn’t as appreciated in the U.S. as it is in Bogota, and I think that is quite unique. However, my experience in the world is limited, and I could very well be misunderstanding. I digress. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Reid Peterson

      Ana, thank you this excellent report on the street murals in your hometown of Bogota! I really appreciated how you began your report. You critiqued the author and wanted to point out the things that aren’t necessarily true compared to your personal experiences to in Bogota. Next, I really enjoyed how you pointed out the two opposing realities between where the line is drawn from cultural art and vandalism. Reinforcing cultural identity, as you pointed out, is extremely important for the development and prosperity to nations with people at all levels of a social class. However, as someone who likes things nice and neat, I wonder if there in fact is a strict line between vandalism and cultural art. Using art as a media for promoting cultural identity is an excellent form of creativity, however, do we need cultural identity to be stray-painted on our walls in public places? Personally, I would disagree with this phenomenon. Public places are meant, in lack of better words, to be public; to be for all the people, not just for a couple of spray-painters. I want to get more opinions on this topic. What do you think?

    • Lexi McCort

      I thought this was a wonderful and eloquent article that touched on a topic that is not often explored. I spent some time in Ecuador and street art was one thing we learned a lot about in regards to politics and culture. I think you pose an important question regarding where society draws the line regarding what art is considered respectful and what is considered vandalism. I think that art plays an important role in what it means to be human. From early on, art has been one of the primary ways Homo sapiens have communicated. Cave paintings tens of thousands of years old tell a story of “bison, horses, wild bulls” and more. I think it is so amazing to think about how art has evolved since then across the world, changing and shaping society as a whole and working as a nonconventional form of communication and expression. Thank you so much for sharing your work.

  1. Alexandra Erickson

    Great article, it is a tricky situation to be in when you have to define something that is not a straight black or white issue. The graffiti being art or vandalism may not be an either/or scenario, because what some people consider to be an art, other people may see as vandalism. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That being said, I liked the Miami example of the government partnering with struggling artists. This gave them an opportunity to show their art, allowed the government some oversight, and boosted tourism. I hope that whatever conclusion is met, it maintains the cultural integrity of the art and is beneficial to the community. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Megan Gonrowski

    Hello Ana,
    I find this article very interesting because I have studied the street art and mural painting that occurs in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Here, any form of street art is legal as long as you have permission from the building owner. However, the street art that I have seen from Buenos Aires is mostly tied to history, culture, political expression, or meant to bring joy and vibrancy to the city. I also think that some of the art in Bogota is meant for these same purposes. However, I do see the distinct difference between what I would consider art and what I would consider graffiti tagging. In the United States, there is a lot of tagging on trains where graffiti artists practice their short tag of letters which substitutes as their graffiti name. I would agree with the people in Bogota that see this as simply vandalism because I do not believe it has a greater artistic purpose or message. I also think the idea of street art tourism is interesting because this is very common in Buenos Aires and a good way to bring money and people into the city. However, I highly doubt that the tourist money goes towards the artist’s themselves. In the end, I think any form of free artistic expression is wonderful, but the historic location of the Bogota graffiti may be the biggest issue.

  3. Nicholas Burski

    This situation seems like a difficult one for the government to address for sure! To me, any scenario that plays out will end up with the government being seen as the bad guy by at least one group involved. To distinguish between what is street art and what should be considered vandalism seems like it is too subjective to be made into a law. Likely, the choice that is the most equal would be to declare all of the examples to be either all graffiti or all art. The situation, in reality, may not be as cut and dry as this answer, but it seems to be the only solution that isn’t going to be left up to someone’s personal opinion about what constitutes art. The art seems to be very important to the culture so I would hope that they choose to keep everything rather than remove everything. Thank you for the great article!

  4. Dylan Brovick

    I’ve always been a fan of street art or vandalism and looking at the many different colors and designs around the Twin Cities. I think it is kind of cool and rebellious I suppose but I also like that the people making the art are doing it anonymously and are often trying to say something with their art. On the other hand I can see why vandalism or street art is frowned upon because sometimes it can be ugly or inappropriate and not go with the look of the area. Like you mentioned some people have profited off of the street art and something seems odd about that but it also shows that a lot of people enjoy looking at it. I know there is a spray paint artist that goes by Mad Steeze who gets paid a lot of money by companies to spray paint huge murals on the side of their buildings because I think they believe it will generate more business. Im not sure how a government or a place like Bogota should go about governing it but it is understandable that some sort of regulation should be there to control where the art can go.

  5. Jacob Kallenbach


    Thank you for writing this article. It was something very interesting and something that I am first hearing about now. I would have to agree that you can not really make a law that distinguishes something between art and vandalism. I just think that is something that is to up in the air and is something that any could have an opinion on. Not every person has the same idea about what could be art or graffiti. The most logical idea would to either leave it as it is or to choose one or the other. You have to make it so that they are all street art or they are all vandals. I think that they should even possibly hire these artists to liven up the looks of some neighborhoods. In Mankato, Minnesota, they have hired someone to do street art all throughout the downtown to show pride in the town and to liven up the dull walls and buildings. Thanks for the article.

  6. Anna,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Graffiti is a tricky topic. Humans have been struggling with the “What is art?” question for a long time, and we still don’t have an answer. While I was abroad in Quito, I did appreciate the murals, colors, and political commentary all throughout the city, but I did think tagging everything down to the bus station signs was crossing a line. I share the same questions as you: Who gets to draw those lines? And how would they even be enforced? I particularly liked your comments about having these conversations with artists of different backgrounds and your warnings about gentrification.

    I look forward to reading more of your articles!


  7. Ellery Bruns


    Wonderful article! The question of what is considered art and what is deemed vandalism deserves a complex answer, and I think you have given a fantastic summary of the context surrounding this question as well as an answer. Art is in the eye of the beholder and that eye changes drastically depending to whom it belongs. Street art can be an effective way to promote the culture of the area in which it is created. It is a fascinating topic to study. I think looking more into this subject but in a global context could be revealing about what the world considers art.

  8. Joseph Ehrich

    Dear Ana,
    This article is really interesting and I did not realize that some people really appreciate street art. Street art allows artist’s to express their opinions and give them a endless source for their gallery’s. I have taken a art class at CSS and the biggest thing that I got out of it, is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The different types of street art gives people more art to look at for free and makes the landscape more colorful. Nobody wants to have a city where the buildings and architecture have bland or dull colors. Bright vibrant colors from street artist’s can brighten up the mood for the residents and give the city more meaning.

  9. william Brennhofer

    This makes me think of Banksy because he started as a start artist, but now he sells paintings for millions of dollars. So I do think that the topic of street art to me is considered even more of art because it has so many more risks involved with the people who do it. Plus it is art that more people can look at, so I think it can make more of an influence to more people. Plus I think street artist can help a city, because some things need more color that the people in power don’t want things like that, because it makes then take a stance one way or another. I wish somethings were not seen as vandalism, but it such a hard lien to find because some things do go to far.

  10. Katelyn Fischer

    Hi Ana Maria.
    Thank you for sharing this interesting article. I think there is a fine line between street art and vandalism. The problem here is what is the difference between the two, and who gets to decide which is which. Artists often leave their art up to interpretation, so then how does one decide if something is art or vandalism. What if this interpretation is different from what the artist intended? There are many what if’s and what about’s that can be argued with determining rules and laws considering street art.

  11. Cassandra Mahlberg

    Hi Ana Maria, thank you for opening our eyes to your home and culture. In the past I didn’t understand the artistry of graffiti, but the more I’ve seen it used in communities in South America, the more intrigued I become. I think it is powerful to be able to use graffiti as a medium to display political ideas or just to renew an area that is plain. When it comes to deciding what is vandalism and what is art, I actually can’t distinguish the two on my own, except to say that art should be approved or commissioned. How do you think a planning committee to determine appropriate places for and uses of street art would work? Can artists be punished if someone thinks their work is vandalism if they have gotten permission to use a particular site? Even though the meanings of street art often go over my head (due to lack of context or language barriers), I can still see its ability to beautify and revamp a particular area and I hope that there is a fair and even-handed process that city officials, artists, and community members can use to come to an agreement about this topic.

  12. Tessa Lowry

    Ana, thank you for sharing this article with us. I have always had a interest with street art because sometimes you never know the true meaning behind it. I do agree with you and appreciated the pictures you have showed us showing vandalism and real respectable street art. I personally believe that street art can be a great aspect of a community but only if it does in a respectful way with a respectful message.

  13. Jacob Moran

    Ana Maria, I was very interested in reading your article because both my brother and my best friend are both adopted from Bogota. I’ve always loved reading about where it is they came from, so thank you for sharing. I think this is a complicated dilemma, which you clearly pointed out in your article. I think there’s a fine line between art and vandalism and I can imagine it’s hard for one to differentiate that fine line. Your idea about giving struggling artists incentives by promoting their art but doing so in a way that would not be considered vandalism is a great idea. I think it helps both parties involved in this issue. Thanks again for sharing.

  14. Hannes Stenström

    Thank you for sharing this account from your hometown. I understand that this is a tricky subject, especially since it is so hard to determine who gets to decide what is art and what is vandalism. While the young artists would love the creative freedom that a complete legalization of graffiti would entail, the property owners might not appreciate it as much. Vague terms such as “responsible street art” might not be of much help either since just as you point out, what is the exact meaning of that formulation? Are there certain styles and sizes of graffiti that determines whether its “responsible”?
    A firm and clear legislation that states what is allowed and what is not concerning graffiti would probably be more helpful for the artists so that they can be certain that what they’re doing is legal.
    I believe that allowing people creative freedom and the ability to express themselves is beneficial in many ways, not to mention that street murals can be very beautiful, so I hope that Bogota finds a good way to solve this issue.

  15. Jane Kariuki

    Hello Ana Maria,
    Your article is very thoughtful and I can sense that you have such a deep connection to both Bogota and art. It is interesting that you bring about the question of what is art and is vandalism? Adding on who gets to decide what to call them. I think it is really important to address the issue of struggling artist in the matter of space. While some may take part in graffiti due to criminality I believe most of it is done in a matter of expression. If governments were to take on such talents, provide artists with the resources and the space it can be turned into a positive thing. The governments might also benefit from this in a sense of tourism. Like you mention there are similar projects such as the Wynwood Walls in Miami and others in the city of Buenos Aires Argentina that are being used to lure in tourists. Overall, a negative seen concept like graffiti can be used to foreshow the positivity of an artist and the country. It was fascinating to such a compelling article from.

  16. Ryan Sauve

    It is very interesting to see the perspective of someone who is a originally from there compared to a journalist that has an outside perspective. I think providing many of these artists the outlet to graffiti buildings that accept it rather than having a sense of criminality to it would benefit the city. You can encourage the beautiful works of art that come from the people that do this and make it part of the cities culture. You bring up a very interesting point of the small distinction between what is graffiti and what is not. I thought it was interesting how you compared the city to Miami and how they gave the artists blank walls to graffiti and it became an important city attraction that attracted tourists and money into the area.

  17. Elijah Ortega

    This was a wonderful read, the information provided was exceptional in the overall understanding of the situation. I personally think that art and the modernization of art definitely needs to be understood like you stated. Also the idea of incentivizing local struggling arts in putting appropriate art I believe is a wonderful idea. I think this will both reduce criminal insignias and other art deemed as ‘vandalism’ while simultaneously providing jobs to the community that gives them pride in their community. Thanks for the read, this was extremely intriguing.

  18. Angela Pecarina

    Thanks Ana! Your story is very interesting. I agree with you that there needs to be a line with regards to street art. Although it is cool to think about the thought process behind it that the public does not know. We see graffiti everywhere, and the fact that in Miami it was given its own special place is again, interesting. I have heard of a few ‘famous’ graffiti artists though and from what I remember they like to not be seeing doing it either. This as a whole is just a different and intriguing topic to explore.

  19. Owen Granger

    I had no idea about this cultural aspect of Bogotá or the neighborhood as a whole. I believe that street art should be encouraged but obviously there needs to be a constructive discussion. Once that happens I am inclined to think more people will appreciate the beauty of the art instead of bureaucracy. All around the globe there are examples of losing sight of purpose when discussing public policy. This sets a dangerous precedent of limiting quality of life to attain a partisan victory.

  20. Brandon Pickeral

    Ana Maria,
    Thank you for sharing your ideas and your story. I find this to be an interesting dilemma. Like most other issues, there is no simple fix. There are so many parties that can and will be affected by any regulations that are enacted and enforced. While the street art can be an asset and provide financial gain for tour guides, the property owners are sure to want a say in what is painted on their buildings. Who should get preference? I really liked your idea of exploring a program similar to the one that you described in Miami. I agree with you that to make an effective and fair policy, the government of La Candelaria will need to include all of the players involved in the policy development process. I hope that they will come to an equitable solution.

  21. Katie Peterson

    This is such an interesting comparison of street art and graffiti. I think that public art is important to have in cities, especially murals that represent the culture and history. However, sometimes it seems graffiti is almost more common to see than murals, and that is challenging because graffiti can be viewed as vandalism or art. I tend to see both sides–graffiti is a form of expression just like any other form of art, but it also can be invasive on public property. Who is allowed to decide what “responsible street art” means? I looked up picture of the Wynwood Walls in Miami, and they seems like a great compromise between murals and graffiti. They’re so colorful and fill up the space like a mural, but still resemble the typical style of graffiti. Thanks for sharing!

  22. Andrew Bailey

    Hello Ana Maria, what an interesting article. I never knew that graffiti art was a touristic attraction in some areas. I wonder if the local government would or does commission artists who they deem as competent to create art pieces in appropriate areas or provide some type of grant/subsidy for these projects. I also find it interesting that some of the art is deemed appropriate and culturally acceptable and in other cases the art work is considered not okay. I am guessing this is a mixture of whether or not the work is on private property, and also what the general message of the artwork is.

  23. Linnea Moore

    Ana Maria,
    Thank you for such an interesting report. I found the ideas you presented to be quite complex, and quite intriguing. The balance between gentrification and restoration is an interesting spectrum in my opinion because it seems that some gentrification can help to stimulate needy economic regions but how far is too far? When will we realize as a society that we cannot ignore the residents of these areas to be building new and marketable businesses and housing? I think street art and the discussion of how to work with artists in Bogota is really interesting because street art is such a natural part of expression of community ideals and frustrations. Perhaps the conversation in many areas should not surround the idea of removing street art, but rather how to incorporate it into the history of an area.

  24. David Obst

    Thank you for sharing this. When I think of street art, the first thing that comes to mind for me is the mural of Viktor Tsoi in Moscow. Tsoi was a Russian-Korean Rockstar that died in the 1990’s. Following his death, a large mural was made, with the words “Tsoi Lives” being the most notable. What is most fascinating about it is that it appears to be in a state of flux, changing every year. It was quite spectacular to see. I’ve always been fond of street art, but I also see the merit behind calling it vandalism. One way or another though, it will exist, whether sanctioned or not, which puts heavy emphasis on how it is best handled. The example you provided of Miami’s warehouses is an awesome idea! Graffiti on the sides of train cars and overpasses, or on the inside of an abandoned warehouse isn’t really harmful. Graffiti on street signs and private property is problematic. The law can and should support both narratives.

  25. Samantha Willert

    Hi Ana Maria,

    Thank you for sharing this article. I think there is a difference between the art that is street art and vandalism. If the artist has ill intentions and it affects someone in a bad way, then it should probably be considered as vandalism. An example of ill intentions could possibly be a swastika sign. But there is a lot of street art showing who the artist is that is not offensive. I also think that street art can sometimes show specific messages or history. However, these are just my opinions and many others have their own opinions on whether street art should be considered art or vandalism. Thanks again for sharing this!

  26. Erin Diver

    Hello Ana,
    This article really sparked my interest. One of my majors in college is Art, and one of the art forms I find most interesting is Street Art. There is always that really fine line of what is art and what is not art- what is a piece of graffiti that an artist meant to have lots of meaning behind or skill behind, and what is just a tag indicating that someone was there, or purposeful vandalism? The answer is sometimes obvious, but, I believe, other times entirely subjective. Not too long ago, Banksy and Shepard Fairey were just vandals- Fairey almost receiving jail time. Now today they are world-renowned street artists which any community is proud to house their on art their streets. I believe it is important to continue to ask these questions, because art is very important. Historically, art was first used as a way of communication, “Before long, scribes connected visual symbols with sounds, and sounds with meanings, and they discovered they could record messages by using symbols or signs to denote concepts” (Tignor et al., 54). Even before that, cave paintings. I believe Street Art today is seeking to do the same thing- to communicate with the public by suggesting concepts; by doing this, artists help hold a community together through wonder, documenting tradition in art, and overall creating a world more interesting to look at.

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