Teacher: A Street Artist Trying to 'Teach Peace'

05/15/2014 11:35 am ET Updated Jul 14, 2014

Teacher is one of the most accomplished and prolific street artists in Los Angeles. True to his name, Teacher's focus has been on education and the vital need to focus on the most important resource we have: our children. His emergence in 2011 coincided with a major push against educators by union-busting bills in Wisconsin and Ohio, privatized school bills from ALEC, and cuts in public education to offset the financial crisis.

Driven by becoming a father to twins and preparing the world for them, Teacher has decorated traffic light boxes, offered editorial improvements to billboards, and made large scale pieces from wood like street signs, oversize boxes, sculptures, more. Teacher doesn't just spray paint, he takes over areas of public space and makes it his own platform to spread a message of "TEACH PEACE," among other positive missives.

In this new short documentary, Teacher explains his motivation, his means, and his experience with cops. The below transcript of the interview with Teacher is an excerpt from Where Else But The Streets.

TEACHER: "I've wanted to do street art, actually, for quite a few years. I started seeing some of Shepard Fairey's pieces, and then I became aware of Banksy, and actually when I saw the movie, Exit Through the Gift Shop, that was just like a manual, like a how-to manual, you know?
"And having my children, too. I'd been doing commission paintings for many years and that doesn't give you any residual income. And since I need to start saving for their future and their education, I needed to start to get into a gallery, and it's hard, it's very difficult to get into a gallery these days.
"And so I thought, 'You know what, if you want to reach more people, put your stuff on the street.' And since at that time, the most current thing that I wanted to address was the cuts in the education budget, that's why I started with the original image of my daughter's face, and it says 'TEACH EACH.' And then from there, it just kind of developed into other things.
"I was hitting some signs in Sunset Plaza and a security guard saw me and called the cops. And they said they normally didn't reply to something like that, but the guy used to be a deputy and so they had to come quickly. And by the time they got to me, I was further down the street, and two cop cars pulled up on each side, and they hand their guns pulled and everything.
"It's funny because, I always thought, you know, I was prepared for that moment to come, that I would have something cool to say, you know, whatever? [Laughs] But when it happens--oh man, I feel like a little five-year-old boy who's, you know, doing something up a tree he shouldn't, or something like that. But when I, you know, I told them what I was doing, they're like 'What?'
"They cuffed me, stuffed me, took me down to where the security guard was so he ID'ed me, and then he went and showed them the sign I had just done, the stencil that said 'TEACH EACH CHILD,' and I wish you could have seen their postures, the cops walking over there, you know, and look at this sign and just like... [Shrugs]
"They come back over and were like, 'Why were you doing that?' I'm like, 'Well, do you agree that the cuts in the education budget are pretty ridiculous?' And they're like, 'Yeah.' And I was like, 'Well, sometimes you have to have drastic measures to reach things, like this.'
"And they're like: 'Don't you have a look-out or anything?!'"

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John Wellington Ennis filmed Teacher and other political street artists for his documentary PAY 2 PLAY: Democracy's High Stakes.