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Minneapolis neighborhood wants to replace 'noxious' graffiti with subsidized public art

Public art graffiti prevention initiatives in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Photos by Eric Gustafson
Public art graffiti prevention initiatives in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Seems like illegal graffiti are a perennial concern for urban neighborhoods. You clean them up and repaint, but they’re back again before you can blink.

Eric Gustafson, assistant director of the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization, says, "We have a lot of gang graffiti in this part of south Minneapolis. Let me be clear: With the kind of tagging I'm talking about, there's no attempt at artistic expression. It's just a way to mark territory, to say, 'I'm a member of this gang, and I was here.' "

The CNO has just been awarded a $10,000 grant from the city of Minneapolis to come up with innovative approaches to graffiti prevention, and Gustafson plans to tap the artist community for its ideas. On Wednesday evening at Susan Hensel Gallery, he will lead an open forum  to ask his fellow Twin Citians for help brainstorming strategies that use public art forms to combat "noxious" graffiti.


Gustafson is quick to point out that the CNO isn't trying to eliminate sanctioned forms of aerosol art — the kinds of murals you might see on the side of Shuga Records or Intermedia Arts, for example. Rather, he says, the group is looking for ways to slow the proliferation of illicit gang-related tagging by supplanting it with public art forms more welcome in the community.

"Rather than choosing things that make a big visual impact, we've actually found people are more likely to adopt graffiti prevention improvements if they're subtler, something that just blends in with its surroundings. Even small improvements -- anything you do that breaks up that big, blank space — work to make the property less attractive to taggers. Just adding some climbing vines or a little landscaping can make a big difference," Gustafson explains.

"You can prevent graffiti," he insists. "You can choose to create a future without that sort of blight. But I think the number of people willing to make the necessary improvements has, up to now, been limited. With this grant and local artists' creative ideas and contributions, we hope to offer some attractive graffiti solutions to our Average Joe residents -- people who are resistant to the idea of a big splashy mural on their property and who don’t have a lot of time or money to work on elaborate landscaping and planting improvements."

According to Gustafson, now that it is armed with the requisite funds, the CNO is ready to move quickly on this project. "We're hoping the meeting on Wednesday generates some specific conversation about possible materials and forms, ideas that are broadly appealing and can be affordably, easily reproduced — graffiti solutions like you might find at Ikea, if Ikea made that kind of thing."

Once he's gotten some practicable ideas, Gustafson plans to move fast to bring them to fruition. He says, "I'd like to have some prototypes ready to show neighborhood residents by National Night Out in August."

The Corcoran Neighborhood Organization's open community meeting to exchange ideas about public art strategies that could be developed to combat illicit graffiti and tagging will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Susan Hensel Gallery, 3441 Cedar, Minneapolis.

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