Art — Tagging goes to wall, gets legit 

Tagging goes to wall, gets legit

 

By Michelle Saturley

 

New graffiti wall slated to open in June at Maple Street youth center 

Graffiti: eyesore or artwork? A debate has been raging in the city for years. Teens and young adults — some looking for a creative outlet, some looking to deface property —  have splashed their handiwork across various city structures, much to the chagrin of property owners and city leaders. The Manchester Department of Public Works has spent big bucks on state-of-the-art equipment to remove graffiti and still, there it is, on bridges, museums and especially abandoned buildings all over the Queen City.

However, a new program aimed at these young artists may be a compromise for both sides of the graffiti war. And, if it works, it just might encourage graffiti artists to be more creative with their work than destructive. Local teen outreach workers and nonprofit organizations have collaborated with the Manchester Police Department and city leaders to develop a safe, positive alternative for young people to express themselves via paint cans. The first step of this plan will be unveiled in early June, when a new graffiti wall becomes available to the public.

Located at the back of the Regis Lemaire Youth Center on Maple Street, this concrete wall will be a monitored but legally approved place where taggers can practice their craft without harassment. (Incidentally, Lemaire was a youth officer with the MPD who often gathered together groups of teens along with local property owners and removed graffiti around the city.) Every couple of months, the graffiti will be painted over, so the artists can do it again.

“We do have a set of guidelines that we’re asking the graffiti artists to follow,” said Nicole Rodler, director of the Youth Rebuild program at Odyssey House. Youth Rebuild is a program aimed at out-of-school 16- to 24-year-olds who need additional education and job skills to transition successfully into the workforce.

“We ask that the artwork not take a negative tone, and not use profanity in getting the message across,” Rodler said. “What we definitely want to avoid is gang-related graffiti. We don’t want this to turn into artistic threats.”

Another component to the wall is the goal of tracking the taggers, to monitor their graffiti in other areas of the city.

“We are asking that the artists register their tags, which are like their signatures, that they work into their graffiti,” Rodler said. “That way, if we see their tag show up on another, unauthorized building, we can tell them, ‘That’s not where you’re supposed to be doing this.’”

Some people are balking at the idea of sanctioned graffiti, while others are hoping it’s the first step in accepting graffiti into the mainstream as a viable art form.

“I’m hoping the wall will prove to be successful, and that we see other, larger areas like it pop up around the city,” said Erikka Adams, assistant coordinator of teen programs at the Manchester YWCA. Adams will be working with Rodler and the city Community Improvement Program committee members.

“What I’d like to see, eventually, is a park devoted to graffiti,” Adams said.

Adams was also unsure how the tag registration policy would affect the new wall.

“I think it’s a good idea, but it might keep some taggers away,” she said. “It takes away their anonymity, and they might be afraid of getting in trouble for graffiti that they put on other buildings previously.”

But Rodler said that’s not part of the policy.

“The goal is to encourage these people to stop sneaking around in the dark and possibly getting themselves into unsafe situations,” she said. “Some taggers, especially those affiliated with a gang, can be very territorial and that can be dangerous. We want to remove that element.”

Organizers are also hoping that, with an approved place to paint, the tagging on other buildings around Manchester will stop.

“I worked with a similar program in Portland, Maine, that was successful,” Rodler said. “There’s also a graffiti park in Bridgeport, Conn. That has curtailed graffiti in other parts of the city.”

Both Rodler and Adams believe that there are good and bad categories of graffiti. Good graffiti, according to Rodler, can be considered an art form.

“I’ve seen graffiti that just blew me away with the detail and creativity,” she said. “It can be like a painting, with structure and composition and shading. It amazes me what can be done with paint cans when people are really creative about it.”

Adams is hoping that if the wall at the Lemaire Center works out, other property owners in the city will consider donating space.

“If it’s done tastefully and artfully, it can add beauty to the city, and give it a more urban look and feel,” she said.

- Michelle Saturley

 
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