NEW YORK—The felony charges announced late last week against street artist Shepard Fairey are a disproportionate response to his alleged crime that could chill artistic expression, PEN American Center said in a statement today.

Fairey, famed for creating the “Hope” poster during President Obama’s first White House campaign, was in Detroit last month on a commissioned project to undertake his largest mural to date when he mentioned to the Detroit Free Press that he had plans to “tag” other properties around Detroit with his artwork, for which he was not commissioned. Following this statement, a dozen of his signature pieces cropped up around the city and on May 19 Detroit police issued a warrant for his arrest on two counts of malicious destruction of property. If convicted, Fairey could face punishment of up to five years in jail and up to $10,000 in fines. Detroit police stated that Fairey should turn himself in or face arrest next time he is in Michigan. 

“Street art is an important avenue for artistic expression and, in a number of repressive environments, one of the only ways for people from marginalized groups to express themselves freely,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of PEN America’s Free Expression Program. “The disproportionate charges leveled against Shepard Fairey, which could result in extended jail time, are a matter of utmost concern to the artistic community. We call on the Detroit police to lessen or withdraw them.”

Fairey has had multiple run-ins with the law before for practicing his street art; typically, he faces misdemeanor charges and pays a fine.

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Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 4,000 U.S writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide. Its distinguished members carry on the achievements in literature and the advancement of human rights of such past members as Langston Hughes, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, and John Steinbeck. www.pen.org

Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression Programs: kdkarlekar@pen.org,  +1 646-779-4822
Sarah Edkins, Communications Manager: sedkins@pen.org, +1 646-779-4830