Murals are increasingly becoming a popular tactic for cleaning up graffiti covered areas of cities, but they have other impacts as well. One of the earliest mural projects was started in 1984 in Philadelphia by Murals Arts. Originally a government supported organization, the project took off and is now supported exclusively through volunteers and donations. Their idea was simple, help to change the neighborhood’s graffiti problem by reaching out to the graffiti artists and encouraging them to engage in public art projects. Over the decades their project was a massive success but not just because of the art being produced, but in the process, the way, that the art was produced. By engaging the community in the creation of the murals, the murals became an important form of communication for the community to express themselves, their histories, and their dreams.
In Southeast Portland a similar project has been happening for a little over a decade now. The Portland Street Art Alliance, is a group of artists, community members, property owners, and volunteers working to control graffiti and give local communities a voice.
For PSAA things all started with a banana and the phrase, “Art Fills the Void!” One of the oldest murals in town is the “Art Fills the Void!” banana mural done by GorillaWallFlare in 1982. This mural of a giant banana was the later repainted by PSAA and it can still be seen today at SE12th Ave and Division St.
Certainly this mural has changed a wall frequently covered in graffiti into something else, but are murals always a successful anti-graffiti tactic? Here is several murals all within a few blocks of each other that have had different success.
Clearly, this mural did not gain the respect of local graffiti artists and was vandalized. Or perhaps they felt they enhanced it? Strangely, just another few feet away on the same wall we see a mural that has only recently been defaced. Was this piece more compelling and thus avoided the fate of the other wall? Was the first one so compelling and resonated with the local graffiti artists that they left them alone?
We may never know, but at least at this location, and on this retaining wall, it seems that the murals didn’t help to reduce graffiti. One might also quickly point to the Broken Windows Theory, when you step back and see that the sidewalk in front of these walls is now being used for camping by the homeless. It certainly appears that the more graffiti covered walls are where people are camping, or more graffiti is happening where people are camping?
Along the walls of Chapman Square Park a long mural was done to replace the graffiti. This park is one that is nearly always occupied by homeless persons, and here again we see the effectiveness of murals stopping graffiti being questionable:
Sometimes graffiti and street art are hard to tell apart, as is the case in this recent addition to the approach of the new Tillicum Bridge. Once again, there was a person camping in a tent just next to this location.
Here is a mural done for the Japanese Auto Repair business near SE Taylor and SE 8th Ave. This commissioned piece shows how murals can help to not only beautify a building and discourage graffiti but also help to be a communication tool. In this piece we see a tsunami destroying a boat, a likely reference to Japanese culture, and connection to the business.
Murals aren’t new, and were original painted on buildings for signage and advertising. As modern billboards took over in speed and cost, these murals declined in use. However, the trendiness of murals has seen at least one local advertising company bringing the concept back. Ironically, they have taken up space immediately adjacent to Farm’s mural:
Here are some more murals from Southeast Portland without commentary, in a random order.