Gamma Acosta on Street Cred, graffiti and the importance of street art

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The last time we talked to Longmont artist Gamma Acosta, he quietly reminded us that there's redemption in street art, and many of the kids who come out of the tagging culture, spray cans in hand, have talent that can raise them above the low-rent materials of the street.

That was seven years ago, when Gamma was helping create a mural for a new teen dance club sponsored by Longmont Youth Services. These days, he works hard at painting one commissioned mural after another, at schools, restaurants, head shops, motorcycle dealerships, movie theaters and any other business willing to offer him a wall to claim as his own. It's honest and steady work, and he's proud of the results.

"I don't do anything illegal. I got too much to lose at this point," Gamma notes. "I like to take credit for my work. I couldn't live without it right now. It's become the one steady thing, other than family and my girlfriend. I need to paint. If you take that away from me, we'd have a problem."

It isn't often that someone who's essentially a blue-collar artist ends up in a museum show, but that's just what's happening for Gamma and several other Front Range street artists, including Denver's Jolt (who's a member of the Westword MasterMind class of 2010 and recently completed a monumental mural on a new Denver Housing Authority project at 11th Avenue and Osage Street). They are all part of Street Cred, a new exhibit opening today at the Longmont Museum and Cultural Center. While the central show comes from Los Angeles and focuses on the Southern California graffiti art community, the museum staff pulled together a representative tie-in using local work, with installations both inside and outside.

For Gamma, it's a big step forward. "I was in my first art show at a gallery this time last year," he says. "To be part of a museum show within a year -- I count that as an accomplishment, even if it is in my hometown."

He's become a booster for the move to mainstream community-minded street art. "I think it's good," Acosta says. "It's good to go mainstream, because more exposure raises the competition level. I don't remember where I heard it, but someone told me that graffiti is the biggest art movement of its kind in the history of the world. There are so many people who do it. It's inevitable with every art form, though there are purists out there who would disagree."

Street Cred will remain on view through January 22; for a more comprehensive walk-through, join new Longmont Museum director Wesley Jessup for guided tours every Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. And for more on the local point of view, a panel of local artists will discuss their craft at 7 p.m. January 12.

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