Artist: Antonio Cosme and William Lucka
Date of Action: August-October 2016
Region: North America
Location: Detroit, MI
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Medium: Installation, Mixed Media, Painting, Public Art
Confronting Bodies: City of Detroit
Description of Artwork: In 2014, two Detroit artist-activists, Antonio Cosme and William Lucka, painted the politically motivated graffiti slogan, FREE THE WATER, along with a fist of resistance on a Highland Park water tower. Cosme and Lucka are outspoken critics of Detroit's redevelopment scheme and the water shut-offs that continue to plague the city. The shut-offs have stirred widespread protests because they disproportionately affect the city's poorest residents.
The Incident: In August, 2016, the artists faced fines of up to $75,000 and a maximum jail sentence of four years on charges related to the malicious destruction of property and trespassing. Hyperallergic reported: 'In November 2014, police confronted Cosme and Lucka at the bottom of the tower, but nearly a year and a half had passed before police contacted them again about the incident. Then, a Detroit graffiti task force — a newly formed special unit charged with tracking and prosecuting taggers and graffiti artists — took over the case, claiming the cost of cleaning the tower would range from $45,000 to $75,000, Cosme says. Police raided Lucka’s home, taking many of his art-related materials, and eventually brought a slew of new charges against him, using one of the task force’s key tools: an expanding graffiti database. Cosme describes it as a “badass” archive of local street art despite its nefarious purpose. Using the database, the task force linked Lucka to multiple appearances of the tag “Astro,” which appeared on the water tower with “Free the Water.”'
Results of Incident: 10/25/16: The Free the Water Defense Campaign announced that artists Cosme and Lucka reached an out of court settlement with the state prior to their October 24th trial. A http://freethewater313.org news release reports: "Thanks to widespread community support and media coverage…[the artists] hammered out an arrangement for 1 year of nonreporting probation and 120 hours of community service each."
Detroit Artists Face Felony Charges for Protest Graffiti, AUGUST 24, 2016
Free the Water campaign
Two Detroit Artists Face Up to Four Years in Prison for Political Graffiti, by Matthew Irwin, Hyperallergic, August 12, 2016
Apparently Painting “Free The Water” On A Water Tower Can Land You Jail Time, by Bridget Casey, Art report, AUGUST, 2016
#FreeTheWater: Detroit Artists Fight Felony Charges and Prison Time by Brenda Montaña Aguilar, The Odyssey, July 19, 2016
Detroit: Artists Fight Felonies for Painting "Free the Water" on Tower, Democracy Now, JULY 14, 2016
Water shutoff activists face possible jail time for ‘Free the Water’ mural, by Steve Neavling, Motor City Muckraker, April 18, 2016