Scrawled across walls, bridges and even trains, graffiti is the scourge of the modern landscape.
Brightly coloured words and images are liberally spray-painted, defacing public building and others landmarks, by perpetrators brazen, or mindless, enough to include their own names, or 'tags'.
So it's little surprise that a summer project which encouraged disaffected youngsters to pick up spray cans in the name of art, should have courted controversy.
But was the publiclyfunded Spray It 'n' Say project breeding a new generation of vandals, or helping to keep six pre-teenage boys on the rails?
The project on the Welsh House Farm estate in Quinton involved six boys aged between 10 and 13. All had been excluded from school or had experienced behavioural difficulties.
Commissioned by Birmingham Children's Fund, the four-week scheme aimed to help the youngsters re-connect with education.
And project coordinator Gayle Plant stresses the project was about a good deal more than simply handing the lads a spray can.
"For the first three weeks we were doing a lot of discussion about themselves, about school, what they did not like about the education system, what they would change. It was very hard work," she says.
"There were eight initially but one did not turn up and another decided on day one that it was not for him. All the others were there through their own choice. They chose to keep coming and they all did homework that was set.
"We also went to a number of legal graffiti sites in Birmingham and it was stressed that there was an important difference between this kind of legal artwork and vandalism."
Initially the lads were meeting on Thursdays and Fridays. For the last week they were separated into small teams to work on murals at legal graffiti sites. They have now produced four plyboards of artwork which will be on display at the Haven Centre at Welsh House Farm.
And organisers are looking at ways of developing Spray It 'n' Say.
"The young people all said they got a lot out of the project," says Gayle. "They want to carry on so we are looking at another project in which they work as peer consultants to other youngsters to spray paint a mobile unit at the centre."
Gayle says criticism of the inclusion of graffiti is unwarranted.
"We could have used any art medium for them to express themselves but chose graffiti," she explains.
"This was only a part of the whole project which centred around issues of self-esteem. All these young men were identified because they had been disconnected from education and had issues of challenging behaviour.
"This was a way of looking at their attitudes to the education system, their own identity and what it means to live on Welsh House Farm. It was aiming to be informal and creative. We have had very positive feedback from the young people and their parents."
* Getting tough on the graffiti artists
Graffiti may seem like a bit of harmless fun to a bored teenager but it causes millions of pounds of damage annually.
It is also believed to stigmatise a neighbourhood. People who live in areas rife with graffiti are more likely to feel they live in an area which is unsafe or run-down.
Birmingham has been fighting back against the so-called graffiti artists in a number of high profile campaigns.
But it is a battle which the city is finding hard to win.
Just weeks ago the Keep Britain Tidy group singled out the city's Moor Street station car park and the Soho Loop canal as two of the UK's graffiti hotspots.
The organisation firmly comes down against graffiti as vandalism rather than art and condemned Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for its 2002 exhibition celebrating the 'work' of Wolverhampton graffiti artist Arron Bird.
Mark Vickerstaff, regional director of Keep Britain Tidy, said: "Graffiti is crime. It's as simple as that."
The group said it cost council taxpayers £27 million nationwide each year to remove graffiti tags and daubings.
Just one vandal can cause thousands of pounds worth of damage. Police in the Hands-worth, Lozells and Aston areas of the city blamed extensive damage on one spray painter earlier this summer.
The spray can menace, who daubed the tag Tribe on walls, had struck almost 200 times across the city. And officers say that in some areas almost every wall bore the tag.
And police last year appealed for help to track down two vandals who had caused more than £50,000 worth of damage between them.
In a spray painting spree across Birmingham, the two vandals, who used the tags Tarki and Ari had damaged countless buildings and walls.
But national and local initiatives are fighting back.
The Government had pledged to crack down on the spray painters - classing it among anti-social crimes along with criminal damage, neighbour-hood noise and abusive behaviour. * Safe way of expressing themselves
Criticism of Spray It 'n' Say is based on a misunderstanding of the project, according to district director for Edgbaston Jaswant Johal.
"At first sight it appears that children are being taught to vandalise places but it is the exact opposite," he says.
"It is not just giving young people a spray can. It is trying to reach a younger age group before they begin freelancing with a spray can.
"They are supervised, they are wearing masks against the fumes and they are learning that there is a difference between graffiti as a form of art expression in legalised sites and the criminal damage that is associated with freelancing.
"It is about teaching them responsibility and giving them a positive framework in which to express themselves."
Jaswant says the project also needs to be seen as part of a much bigger picture of regeneration work and community initiatives taking place on Welsh House Farm estate. And he believes the results are already evident.
"I have walked round the estate and noticed very little graffiti. There is all this stuff about young tearaways on the streets and this is a scheme which tried to engage young people in activities during the summer. The young people and their parents have all been very positive about it."
Mum Mandy, whose 11-year-old son Stephen took part in Spray It 'n' Say believes the family have benefited.
"I was finding Stephen a bit difficult beforehand but it has quietened him down," she says. "And now it has finished, he is really missing it.
"He has always loved art. He spends a lot of time drawing and so this was perfect for him."
Stephen has been excluded from school in the past but Mandy is optimistic he will find his feet next term.
"He is going to a new school and he says he wants to try and get on there," she says. "He is really good at art and says he is going to try and do more of that at school."
And Stephen, in his assessment of the project says: "It was good and it was brilliant. The staff have not told us off and they treat us like adults."
Fellow youngster Luke, aged nine, says: "It has been excellent. We went to the park to look at spray painting. I was treated excellent by the staff."
And 11-year-old Ryan says: "It has been good. We were listened to and respected."
In March a raft of tough new measures to combat anti-social behaviour - including on-the-spot fines for graffiti artists - came into force nationally. Moves in the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 include powers for council wardens to issue £50 on-the-spot fines for fly-posting and graffiti.
The new legislation also banned sales of aerosol paints to under-16s with shopkeepers facing fines of up to £2,500.
In Birmingham, West Midlands Police recently launched the first mobile police station of its kind in Aston to tackle crime and disorder. The £36,000 Governmentfunded unit is aiming to target what is known as 'signal crimes' - types of crime which have a negative impact on people's perception of safety such as graffiti, vandalism, abandoned vehicles and litter.
And British Transport Police in Birmingham take graffiti so
seriously it has a Priority Policing Team to combat the paint daub-ers. The team of seven officers based at New Street station has a remit to combat graffiti, criminal damage, anti-social behaviour and robbery on trains and stations in the West Midlands.
Central Trains has also gone to war against the graffiti artists by becoming the first train operator in the country to install motion sensitive cameras in its sidings to protect the trains.
* Throwing good money after bad
By David Bell
The city council's deputy leader has savaged the scheme for giving problem kids lessons in graffiti art.
Coun John Hemming believes the scheme, financed from taxpayers' pockets, was misspent money.
"It just brings out the Victor Meldrew in me - I can't believe it," he says. "It is simply brain dead to teach them how to spray better graffiti."
Coun Hemming says Spray It 'n' Say is particularly open to criticism because financial difficulties besetting the Children's Fund have caused it to cut a lot of worthwhile projects.
"I just wonder why we could not teach these kids how to paint instead of providing a course in vandalism. It shows a strange sense of priorities."
His views are supported by Keep Britain Tidy, whose spokesman Peter Gibson says: "There is no evidence that legal walls reduce graffiti. In fact what we have found is that more appears."
A full report on the findings of the artwork is due to be drafted in the next few months, with recommendations going to the education authority.
What do you think? Is the scheme right to teach children spray painting? Write to The Editor, Evening Mail, PO Box 78, Weaman Street, Birmingham, B4 6AY, or email email@example.com