A collective of graffiti artists has chosen to transform the Oceanwide Plaza in Downtown Los Angeles into a statement on the community issues the community faces.

The location, which occupies an entire square city block, was imagined as a mixed-use project when constructed in 2015. At that time, it was meant to serve city residents with over 500 condominiums, a five-star hotel, retail spaces, and restaurants, as well as a private park. However, the graffiti community moved in when the $1 billion project was shelved after Oceanwide Holdings ran out of funding in 2019.

Tagger ENDEM stated, “It was like a gift from the graffiti gods… A giant canvas in the middle of downtown.” ENDEM also added, “The whole world is going to see this.”

Though the practice of graffiti dates back thousands of years, it’s viewed in a contemporary context as a way to challenge societal norms and inequities. However, neither ENDEM nor any of the artists involved in the Oceanside Towers project could anticipate how famous their graffiti would become.

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After sharing his artwork on Instagram on January 31, ENDEM’s video racked up tens of thousands of views. The viral footage quickly opened the floodgates for other graffiti artists, and by mid-February, the number of tags and other graffiti pieces was multiplying overnight.

ENDEM said it was “an open house [of] people going in and out. It was beautiful. It was like a graffiti paradise.”

The abandoned Oceanwide building became an opportunity for graffiti artists to leave a message to the city below, and to call out the policymakers who leave such buildings to rot in various communities.

Roger Gastman, the owner and founder of the LA arts organization Beyond the Streets, has stated that “Graffiti shows you where the city hurts.” However, Gastman indicates that graffiti’s mission is clear: to not just challenge but educate and redefine the public perception of the medium.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, the president of The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, said tens of thousands of people are displaced because of an abundance of urban development. As a result, they are on the streets. The Los Angeles Housing Authority indicated a 9% increase in homelessness in LA County in 2024 and a 10% increase in the city in 2022. However, Hutchinson is not a fan of the graffiti—and despite the potential well-meaning in the messages behind the graffiti, he and many other LA residents disapprove of the “vandalism” that some claim is a “sore sight for eyes.”

Costs for cleanup and security are currently burdening taxpayers, as security details provided by LAPD and graffiti cleanup crews have been forced to work to prevent further graffiti from going up.

Despite this, Gastman says that graffiti is a powerful form of expression and a call to action. ENDEM, the graffiti artist whose video started the Oceanwide movement, agreed, stating: “In graffiti culture, a lot of us know each other. We’re all friends. We have the same mentality — we’re just trying to get up. We’re just trying to get noticed.”