KALAMAZOO, MI – Worried the police might stop you from spray-painting your latest masterpiece in the city park?
Not on this wall.
To combat the problem of graffiti on buildings in Kalamazoo and to give artists a place to paint within the law, the Kalamazoo Parks Department erected a designated wall that allows people to bring their own paint and create public art that everyone to be able to see. within a set of guidelines.
The graffiti wall is located in Upjohn Park, not far from the Kalamazoo Farmers Market. The city plans to build another such wall in spring 2023, parks director Patrick McVerry told MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette.
The Upjohn Park graffiti wall was installed in September 2021. The location was chosen to alleviate some of the graffiti at the nearby skate park, McVerry said.
Kalamazoo artist Guillermo Sotelo brought a graffiti wall idea to the city of Kalamazoo and worked with city staff on the concept, rules and sign. It was “received very well,” McVerry said, and people have already created some great artwork on the wall.
Sotelo is a 32-year-old artist living in Kalamazoo. You can check out his art on Instagram. He said the idea started with a similar project in Grand Rapids, where he’s from, and where they put up a graffiti wall in the Creston neighborhood a few years ago.
“It’s a safe place for a graffiti artist,” he said, describing the walls in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids where people can express themselves without fear of punishment.
Sotelo said he was a tagger and explained that he didn’t start the project to stop or curb graffiti.
“My point is to tag everywhere you can get your name out,” he said.
The Kalamazoo effort has been a great community-driven project, Sotelo said.
“Wherever these walls appear, they bring creativity into play,” Sotelo said.
He and his girlfriend have recently started pursuing art full-time and he believes the graffiti walls can provide a beautiful canvas, especially for artists who want to try a larger design for the first time or anyone else who who want to paint it, he said.
Sotelo mainly does murals and commissioned work, as well as art exhibitions, he said.
The first wall erected in Kalamazoo was considered a pilot project, and he looks forward to adding more next year. He painted on it a few times, the artist said.
McVerry said it was a great addition the city came up with to try to reduce graffiti on buildings.
“There’s a set of rules on the wall that artists have to follow, and they’ve been very well received so far,” McVerry said.
The city plans to build another wall in a park next spring, McVerry said. The city hasn’t made a final decision on where it would be located, he said, but it may have Davis Street or Rockwell Park.
The wall at Upjohn Park sits next to a graffiti-covered skate park.
“Graffiti in the skate park wasn’t the original idea, but after struggling to keep the park graffiti-free, we decided to let it happen,” McVerry said. “The problem we faced with the painting was the constant vulgar language.”
This seems to have subsided, and more recently artists have been creating some very good artwork at the skate park, he said.
Deputy City Manager Rebekah Kik said graffiti walls as well as the art wrapping projects for supply boxes were identified in the Imagine Kalamazoo process to prevent graffiti and highlight artist/photography/community.
These projects were identified in 2018 and 2019 and the city was able to obtain funding to implement the downtown utility box art project. Kik said she helped with a design for the graffiti wall that was erected in UpJohn Park.
She looks forward to more planned walls for the future, she said.
“This is another great example of taking community feedback and turning it into the projects you see,” said Kik.
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