The ‘Big Event’ Unites Students & Locals to Clean Up Graffiti

Second from the left: U.S. Consul General Benjamin Wohlauer; to his right is Caterina Paolucci of James Madison

The October 2 “Big Event” to clean up Florence buildings from the effects of vandalism unites American university students, residents, and local businesses in one common purpose: to beautify and maintain Florence’s historic architecture.  The initiative is open to the public: those interested in participating are invited to join in at the meeting point, the steps of the Church of Santo Spirito, at 2 pm.  The “Big Event” will continue all afternoon, until 6 pm.

Plastered to historic walls of piazzas throughout Florence is graffiti, stickers, and posters. Though some of it was put up as street art or some form of expression, all of it is considered vandalism.

The “Big Event” was originally created by the local campus of James Madison University near piazza Santo Spirito in conjunction with the adjacent via Maggio street association.

Since 2009, Associazione Via Maggio has transformed the presence of “vandalismo murale” (wall vandalism) in Via Maggio and neighboring communities throughout the city. Apart from directly removing and repainting vandalized areas, the group also seeks out those responsible and holds conversations with them, offering places where street art is legal and encouraged.

This type of vandalism includes anything posted or drawn on walls illegally. While many people assume mural vandalism is strictly confined to graffiti, it also includes things like street art and posters, James Madison University director Caterina Paolucci and Olivia Turchi, head of Via Maggio Street Association said.

In 2011, the association created a protocol that allowed volunteers to work on projects without first consulting with the Florence government. Before the procedure existed, the association had to request authorization to work on the project each time before fixing a wall in Via Maggio. Street Association volunteers began working at a much faster pace, moving quickly from one project to the next.

While the 2019 edition, the second also open to locals and students from other American campuses, continues to focus on the removal of graffiti and the effects of vandalism, the area that will be cleaned up has expanded from the Oltrarno neighborhood. The October 2 work area will embrace Florence’s historical city center, from Sant’Ambrogio to San Frediano, Piazza del Mercato Centrale to the Biblioteca Nazionale (National Library).

This year’s event is unique because it is also part of the 200th-year-anniversary celebrations of Florence’s U.S. Consulate.  It aims to bring attention to how the American community can, and does, give back to the city, in the company of local residents.  (rosanna cirigliano & francesca billington)