Caitlin Bruce, assistant professor in the Dietrich School's Department of Communication, is the recipient of the 2019 Jane Jacobs Urban Communication Foundation Award for her book Painting Publics: Transnational Legal Graffiti Scenes as Spaces for Encounter.
The Chairman of the committee, Tim Gibson at James Mason University, wrote: "In this beautifully composed book, Bruce offers an important contribution to the study of graffiti as a space of and for urban communication. If the graffiti literature has often had a narrow focus on the politics of rupture and resistance, Bruce’s book expands our view by focusing instead on the production of legal graffiti and the complex relationships that form between artists, city officials, commercial sponsors, and community members. In doing so, Bruce argues that legal graffiti—such as the art produced by “writers” (an emic term) participating in festivals in Chicago, Mexico City, Perpignan (France)—offers what she calls “spaces for encounter,” Bruce's term for spaces which provide opportunities for potentially transformative encounters across social differences."
The committee was unified in enthusiasm for Painting Publics. "First, we were impressed by how Bruce built her interpretation of the communicative and social significance of legal graffiti spaces on a deep and rich foundation of ethnographic research. Drawing on over 100 interviews with graffiti artists, as well as over 200 hours of participant observation at graffiti festivals in multiple cities, Bruce’s critical ethnography explores the interplay of structure and agency in the creation of legal graffiti, keeping in simultaneous view both the creative agency of artists and the structural and material realities they negotiate, reproduce, and transform. Moreover, we were equally impressed by the international scope of Bruce’s research. By shifting her fieldwork from the U.S. to Mexico and then to Europe, Bruce’s book examines legal graffiti as a truly transnational phenomenon, sustained by networks of artists and promoters across multiple continents."