City helps fund efforts to fight graffiti in Uptown, Lyndale

Uptown Association and Lyndale Neighborhood Association each receive $10,000 grant

Curb appeal has nothing to do with the color scheme of TNT’s Barbershop at 38th Street and Nicollet Avenue South. 

Owner and operator Tarik Propes is blunt about his distaste for the colors, but said they’re good for one thing — covering up graffiti tags.  

“If you look at my building, it’s got these real ugly chocolate brown colors for that reason in particular, so that I can just run right over it each time they do it,” he said. “But they do it pretty regularly.”

Propes’ shop was one of eight frequently tagged sites selected to receive a mural this summer as part of the Lyndale Neighborhood Association (LNA) and Kingfield Neighborhood Association’s (KFNA) Walldogs on Nicollet project. Recognizing the project’s long-term graffiti-reducing potential, the city awarded LNA a $10,000 grant to help with the effort.

About a mile west of Nicollet, the Uptown Association has been planning its own summer graffiti prevention campaign, planned to include a cleanup day and an educational program for youth. Minneapolis chipped in a $10,000 grant for that project as well.

The grants came from the city’s Solid Waste and Recycling division’s general budget and were among 17 awarded in various amounts to applicants citywide in hopes of jumpstarting sustainable graffiti efforts. They are the city’s newest weapons in its $1.2 million-a-year war on graffiti. 

“We’re really good at getting (graffiti) abated,” said Minneapolis Clean City Coordinator Angela Brenny. “But we want to prevent it from ever happening.”

Cleaning up Uptown

Brenny said Uptown consistently ranks among the top 10 areas in the city when tracking the number of graffiti reports.

In the Lowry Hill East neighborhood specifically, 647 graffiti markings were reported in 2007. That’s a couple hundred shy of the city’s most tagged neighborhood, Whittier, which had 842 reports last year.

Tags, or monikers of the person doing the graffiti, make up about 95 percent of the Uptown reports, Brenny said. The other type of graffiti is gang related, done to mark territory, and that’s rare in Uptown, she said.

So far this year, the Uptown Association has photographed close to 300 tags in the area. The photos will be used to document Uptown graffiti before and after this summer’s project. All grant recipients were told to measure their projects’ success in a similar way.  

For its program, the Uptown Association is working on recruiting city staff and area stakeholders to “attack” graffiti during a cleanup day that has yet to be scheduled. The group has partnered with the Minneapolis Police Department, other business associations and the Uptown YWCA to build awareness of the social and economic impact of graffiti.

The majority of the grant money will go toward an educational program for youth that will result in the creation of public art pieces for the Uptown Art Fair in August. An art instructor from North Minneapolis nonprofit Juxtaposition Arts will lead the educational piece, which will be advertised and hosted at the YWCA.

Uptown Association member Gayle Siegler said planning a graffiti prevention effort was one of the group’s goals for this year. 

“One of our missions for 2008 was to create a program that was a combination of raising awareness of what everybody can do in the way of graffiti prevention in the neighborhood and to sort of heighten the awareness of the impact that graffiti has on people coming into an area; what kind of negative perceptions they get,” said Siegler, who is the general manager at Calhoun Square.

Many Uptown businesses spend hundreds of dollars each year on graffiti abatement. Siegler said Calhoun Square has spent thousands in recent years.

She’s hoping the Uptown Association’s graffiti-prevention efforts this summer will unite Uptown businesses and residents in a continuous effort to keep the area clean.

“In the end it would be great if it creates another layer of partnership in the community and something that’s actually sustainable from year to year,” she said.

Redefining Nicollet

The mural project in Kingfield and Lyndale is more of a one-time event, but project organizers expect it to have a lasting impact that will do more than prevent graffiti.

“Art Street” is how LNA Executive Director Mark Hinds described his vision for South Nicollet.

“These murals should be the defining characteristic of this part of town for a long, long time,” he said.

Wall artists called Walldogs and volunteers from throughout the area will converge on Nicollet en masse July 24–27, painting 11 murals on eight different sites. 

Hinds estimated the job would require 200–250 volunteers each day. Paying for the artists and supplies alone will far exceed the $10,000 grant. Hinds said the whole project would cost around $70,000, so fundraising has been crucial.

Sites were selected for the project based largely on how often they were tagged, Hinds said. Graffiti hotspots such as Ungerman Construction at 4450 Nicollet, Gray’s Leather at 3301 Nicollet and Tarik Propes’ own TNT’s Barbershop were some that made the cut.

Propes said he’s hoping the mural, planned for his building’s huge back wall, will save him some time and expense. 

“Graffiti is a daily concern here… it probably is the difference between me making money and me not making money,” he said. 

The mural planned for his building has a streetcar theme because of the intersection’s past role as a major streetcar hub. Most of the planned murals were designed to recognize Minneapolis history, acting as windows to the past.

Whether murals truly deter graffiti is often debated, but Hinds said the proof is in the murals already painted in Southwest, few of which have been tagged.

A mural painted last fall on a building at 34th and Nicollet as a preview to the Walldogs project prevented once-prevalent graffiti for seven months, until the building burned and was demolished. 

A different worldview

Getting rid of graffiti entirely, as much as the city wants that to happen, is unlikely, Brenny said.

She said eliminating gang graffiti through police, community and city collaboration is within reach, but stopping taggers, who view graffiti as an art form, will probably never happen.

“Because it’s art based, there’s a different view of the world in that culture,” Brenny said.

One experienced local aerosol artist who now paints legal murals confirmed that view. JoJo, who declined to use his last name, said anyone should have the right to “beautify” public property. 

He said there are good tags and bad tags, but he doesn’t view them as destructive. 

“Graffiti has got a double meaning,” he said. “For us it’s an art form, for others it’s vandalism.”

He said the freedom of expression and excitement of creating public art make graffiti appealing.

“Graffiti in general will never be stopped,” he said. “You can do what ever you want, it’s just never going to be stopped.” 

Area graffiti artist Jonah Anderson said he’s been spraying his tag, Stun1, for 15 years. He has avoided doing it illegally in recent years, but said he’ll never grow tired of the art form. 

“Once you’ve been inspired to do graffiti, that never leaves you,” said Anderson, who has been in trouble with the law in the past for his work.

Sgt. Giovanni Veliz, a graffiti investigator with the Minneapolis Police Department’s 5th Precinct, said catching taggers requires several ingredients: a witness, a damage estimate and a victim who is willing to come forward and help with prosecution. 

Veliz said his desk is always full of graffiti reports and he welcomes any new prevention strategies. So he’s looking forward to what the city’s new grants and the efforts they’re supporting accomplish this summer. 

Over at TNT’s Barbershop, Propes is eager, too. Eager to get rid of the ugly brown paint he keeps in his shop.

“It will make a good backdrop for the mural,” he said.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]