Tag busters

When graffiti hits the walls in Lyndale this summer, two people are going to attack it like it’s their job — because it is.

Minneapolis neighborhood groups have unleashed an arsenal of tactics over the years in the never-ending war on graffiti vandalism.

Murals, youth outreach programs, mass clean-up events, new legislation — the list of efforts is as long as the struggle against graffiti itself. But community members bent on winning the fight, or at least gaining some ground, still manage to come up with new strategies.

For its part, the Lyndale Neighborhood Association (LNA) decided this year to create two paid “graffiti buster” positions. The hired hands will earn $10 an hour working 12 hours a week finding, removing, reporting and cataloguing graffiti wherever it is in the neighborhood. They’ll correspond with property owners and the Minneapolis Police Department to do so.

“Our hope is that you’ll be hard-pressed to find graffiti anywhere in the neighborhood by the time we get through this fall,” said LNA executive director Mark Hinds.

It’s a hard, but temporary, push — the positions will expire after four months. By then, LNA hopes to have recruited volunteer busters to continue cleanup during the much-less problematic colder months.

If the paid vandalism eradicators are successful, the organization might look for funding sources to bring them back when prime aerosol weather returns.

This year, the busters are funded through a $10,000 “innovative graffiti prevention” micro-grant from the city. Those dollars also pay for other aspects of LNA’s graffiti abatement efforts, including an office stocked with cleanup kits for checkout, a program that provides matching grants to property owners who improve exterior lighting and a “cover up” program that uses art and greenscaping to minimize vandal targets.

The city awarded graffiti-prevention micro grants for the second time this year and nine organizations received them, including the Uptown Association and the Kingfield Neighborhood Association. There was no shortage of applicants, but budget woes meant the total grant allotment, which comes from the city’s general fund, was cut in half, from $150,000 to $75,000.  

Angela Brenny, clean city coordinator for Minneapolis, said the grants go a long way in combating the city’s graffiti vandalism, which it spends roughly $1.4 million annually to clean up. During the first year of the grants, recipients reduced graffiti an average of 78 percent in their target areas, she said. Citywide reports of graffiti dropped from 13,442 in 2007, when the grants were not available, to 12,179 last year.

Lyndale, in conjunction with Kingfield, used grant money last year to help pay for a massive mural project on Nicollet Avenue. A group of professional painters known as Walldogs spent days last July working with community volunteers to paint 10 murals between 31st and 45th streets.

A year later, the murals seem to have done their job, but they don’t cover everything. Just to the right of a Walldogs mural on vintage boutique B-Squad at 35th Street and Nicollet, for instance, a vandal painted a black tag over the building’s brown brick.

B-Squad owner Betsy O’Connor, clearly frustrated with the incident, said she also gets heavy-duty stickers plastered on her windows. She said she’d welcome anyone who could save her the time and headache of getting rid of the graffiti, which the city requires property owners to do within 10 days to avoid a costly cleanup.

Brenny said Lyndale’s plan to hire employees specifically for graffiti abatement is new, but other neighborhoods have used volunteers with some success.

The Stevens Square Community Organization (SSCO) last year organized “rapid response teams” to quickly remove graffiti wherever it popped up in the neighborhood. By the effort’s end, 30 volunteers had worked 236 hours and staff had spent 50 hours cleaning up graffiti at 490 locations.

SSCO considered the program a success, though it learned some lessons. In a report created at the program’s end, the organization said quick graffiti removal discouraged some vandals, or “taggers” from returning to a particular spot, but it did nothing to prevent new taggers from vandalizing the area. As a result, popular graffiti locations were repeatedly tagged.  

Hinds said he’s hoping Lyndale’s intense focus on erasing graffiti during the next several months will discourage vandals enough to give the neighborhood the upper hand.

“We’re hoping to make a really big push and get rid of it as much as we possibly can and see if that can help us keep the amount of graffiti down in the neighborhood,” he said.

Lyndale’s graffiti busters will ask permission from private property owners to clean graffiti in those locations and work with the city on vandalism of public property. Other than being at least 16 and eager about cleaning the neighborhood, the job’s qualifications are few.

“We want people who want to get out there and clean up graffiti and who are really good with working with community members,” Hinds said.

For more information about LNA’s graffiti efforts, visit www.lyndale.org.

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