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Bogotá: Public Space Between Appropriation and Deliberation

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Part of the Studies of the Americas book series (STAM)


Street art boomed in Bogotá during the 2000s, but interactions between artists and authorities were sporadic and contentious. When a police officer shot to death a young graffiti writer, a policy change was introduced. Leftist Mayor Gustavo Petro (2012–2015) opened a deliberative space to discuss the regulation of the artists’ use of public space. Such an experiment in collaborative governance led to the adoption of a decree. Yet in 2015, the left lost the municipal elections. For the new mayor, street art represented nothing but vandalism and the collaboration scheme of governance lost momentum.

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-26913-5_3
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Fig. 3.1

(Artist: DjLu. Photo credit: Olivier Dabène)

Fig. 3.2

(Artist: DjLu. Photo credit: Olivier Dabène)


  1. 1.

    See, for instance, “Bogotá , capital latino-americana del graffiti,” El País, 22 February 2016.

  2. 2.

    There is a double meaning in Spanish that could translate into English as a mix between “no more doves” and “no more for the MAS.” MAS (“Muerte a secuestradores” or “Death to the kidnappers”) was a paramilitary organization created to protect narcotraffickers and landlords from the FARC guerillas, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia . They were responsible for massive human rights violations.

  3. 3.

    André J. Lopez, “Las raíces del grafiti Bogotáno.” Retrieved fromá.

  4. 4.

    Alcaldía de Bogotá, “Plan de desarrollo económico social y de obras públicas,” Decree 295, 1 June, 1995. Retrieved from http://www.alcaldiaBogotá

  5. 5.

    The perimeter is located along 30th Avenue (Carrera), between 72nd and 80th Streets.

  6. 6.

    Similar to a “class action” in the USA. The Colombian Civil Code includes it, but it was long forgotten until recently.

  7. 7.

    Article 82 of the 1991 Colombian Constitution mentions that “it is the duty of the State to protect the integrity of public space and its assignment to common use, which has priority over the individual interest.”

  8. 8.

    República de Colombia. Rama judicial del poder público. Juzgado treinta administrativo del circuito de Bogotá D.C., Sección segunda. Proceso AP 2007-0354.

  9. 9.

    The city’s general secretary, the secretaries of government, culture , entertainment and sports, environment and planning, as well as the Administrative Department for the Defense of Public Space (DADEP) and the Institute of Urban Development (IDU).

  10. 10.

    Interview, 29 February 2016.

  11. 11.

    As of May 2019 (

  12. 12.

    I interviewed Lady Cristal twice, on 16 February 2016 and 30 March 2017.

  13. 13.

    “Distrito desmiento que esté borrando los grafitis de la 26,” El Tiempo, 6 January 2016. Bogotá’s 26th Street is famous for hosting some of the most respected murals in the city. More a large avenue than a street, it connects the airport to downtown Bogotá . Important businesses are located along the avenue, as well as the National University, the central cemetery and the Center for Memory, Peace and Reconciliation.

  14. 14.

    True, the first declarations of the mayor were unequivocal: he claimed he inherited a city with a contaminated public space and wanted to get rid of unartistic graffiti (“Tensión social en Bogotá por las primeras medidas de la alcaldía,” El País Internacional, 16 February 2016).

  15. 15.

    Interview with Lesivo, 22 February 2016.

  16. 16.

    Interview with Lili Cuca and Ark, 30 March 2017.

  17. 17.

    Interview with DjLu, 23 February 2016.

  18. 18.

    Interview with Stinkfish, 18 February 2016.

  19. 19.

    In Spanish: Animales Poder Cultura (Animals Power Culture ).

  20. 20.

    Alluding to a popular Colombian saying: Muralla es el papel de la canalla (“A wall is the rabble’s paper”).

  21. 21.

    My translation of “Rebelde y transgresor, el grafiti es una manera de sublevarse frente a las formas comunes de entender la vida, la sociedad, la calle, pero no es esa rebeldía que se vende, que es aceptada, comercializada e institucionalizada, subvalorada, disfrazada de adolescente y juvenil, enmarcada en una etapa generacional en la que supuestamente hay un derecho otorgado para hacer travesuras, ser irreverente, salirse de los límites” (Stinkfish 2014).

  22. 22.

    I interviewed Toxicómano twice: on 9 April 2015 and 23 February 2016.

  23. 23.

    In English, “we are from everything” or “we are all different.”

  24. 24.

    Alcaldía de Bogotá, “Plan de desarrollo 2012–2016: Bogotá humana,” Agreement 489, 12 June 2012.

  25. 25.

    Interview with Clarisa Ruiz, Bogotá’s Secretary of Culture during Petro’s administration, 29 February 2016.

  26. 26.

    Aldo Civico, “Justin Bieber sparks a graffiti revolution in Colombia ,” Huffington Post, 11 October 2013. Retrieved from

  27. 27.

    Interview with Clarisa Ruiz, Petro’s Secretary of Culture (2012–2015), 29 February 2016.

  28. 28.

    Diagnóstico Grafiti Bogotá 2012. Informe final, 28 December 2012.

  29. 29.

    In Spanish: “Artículo 10º-. Estrategias pedagógicas y de fomento. Las estrategias pedagógicas y de fomento de la práctica del grafiti en Bogotá, D.C. incluirán acciones orientadas al estimulo de la práctica adecuada del grafiti como forma de expresión artística y cultural, así como actividades de socialización de la normatividad vigente dirigidas tanto a las entidades con competencias en el tema como a los autores de grafiti.”

  30. 30.

    Secretaría distrital de cultural, recreación y deporte, IDARTES, Propuesta estrategia pedagógica. Práctica grafiti, Documento de trabajo, June 2013.

  31. 31.

    The peace agreement was signed on 24 August 2016. It was rejected by referendum on 2 October. A revised version was passed by Congress on 24 November of the same year.

  32. 32.

    Interviews with Cesar Rubio (Che Che), one of the organizers of the Mesa , 24 February 2016 and 20 March 2017. Lady Cristal was one of the few coming from distant localities .

  33. 33.

    Decree 028, 28 January 2002.

  34. 34.

    During the 16 February 2015 Mesa meeting, someone suggested that the authorities should offer the graffiti community the walls of the houses they seized from narcotraffickers. The answer was that the legal instrument existed, but that it was simply too complicated to have the different administrations work together.

  35. 35.

    Interview with César Rubio, at that time working for Petro’s Secretary of Government, 24 February 2016.

  36. 36.

    An example of Peñalosa’s declarations

  37. 37.

    There is hardly any hostal in Candelaria without a painted façade and this is a strong commercial argument to attract tourists .

  38. 38.

    Available onlineá.

  39. 39.

    Jaime Garzón was a very famous, politically engaged journalist and sarcastic comic who was killed in 1999.

  40. 40.

    In May 2019, Stinkfish had 30,900 followers on his Instagram account, while Toxicómano had 97,800.

  41. 41.

    Such as “Bogotá Graffiti ” (á%20graffiti).

  42. 42.

    See Young (2010) for the case of Melbourne (Australia) and Foster and Iaione (2016) for Bologna (Italy).


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Dabène, O. (2020). Bogotá: Public Space Between Appropriation and Deliberation. In: Street Art and Democracy in Latin America. Studies of the Americas. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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