Schenectady County

Graffiti board project getting a second look

The vilified graffiti board is not dead.

The vilified graffiti board is not dead.

Although it was panned by residents in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood, who worried that gangs would fight over control of the board, other residents have spoken up in favor of the idea.

They want a board where artists can show off their skills with paint or chalk. A vibrant street art venue could enrich the community, they said.

“Public art, I think it’s important to have,” said Tony Iadicicco, a local artist who has organized several large installations for Art Night and other events downtown.

He not only loved the idea but wanted to use it to encourage more people to try street art. He said the city should provide chalk, or some other medium, so that anyone could draw on the board.

“Everyday people don’t usually have materials on them,” he said.

Resident Gerald Plante added that residents shouldn’t be deterred by a fear that gangs will take over the board with their own messages.

“Why should we worry or be afraid of gangs?” he asked. “Take back the park! It’s just art. It’s public space art.”

But after the negative reaction from Hamilton Hill residents, it’s a long way from becoming reality.

City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo proposed the board as part of her program to combat graffiti. Juveniles on probation and inmates at the county jail are now painting over graffiti on businesses and city property.

The idea was to fight taggers — those who spraypaint their name on walls — but encourage street art in a legal and safe location.

Perazzo proposed that the first board be placed at Jerry Burrell Park in Hamilton Hill. Residents came to the next City Council meeting to describe their horror and disgust at such an idea, and she quickly dropped it.

Now she’s looking for a location where street art would be welcomed.

She’s taking lessons from the “Before I Die …” chalk board that was placed around the city this summer.

The project, organized by Union College students, encouraged passersby to finish the sentence. The board was monitored by business owners, and inappropriate responses were erased quickly.

When the board went to Hamilton Hill, it sat for three days at the Hamilton Hill Arts Center without anyone touching it.

No one wrote anything, Perazzo said.

On Jay Street, the board filled up quickly and had to be regularly washed to make room for new comments. But on Upper Union Street, organizers had to intervene repeatedly when passersby left inappropriate words on the board.

“Upper Union Street had the most problems because there’s less foot traffic. Not as many people seeing what you’re writing,” Perazzo said.

Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said police never had to be called and there were no signs that gangs were using the board.

But he said a board that encourages graffiti might lead to a different result.

“Certainly there’s always a possibility it might become a private mural for opposing factions,” he said. “The million-dollar question is, ‘Will it become advertising for the wrong people?’ ”

But he said it was worth trying.

“Is it worth the risk? I’d say yes. You have to try it to find out,” he said.

location is key

He added that the city could probably avoid problems by choosing a location carefully.

“I think the location is the issue. You certainly want something that’s visible, night and day,” he said. “Wherever these are going to be located, you want to have the support of the people who live there, the people who are going to have to look at it.”

It also has to be somewhere that Quest students can get to easily. Members of the after-school arts group, located on State Street, have offered to monitor the board, painting over inappropriate messages.

Iadicicco said regular patrols would be the key to success.

He said they would have to move quickly to paint over tags. If they regularly policed it, he said, taggers would likely get discouraged.

“That’s definitely something the group would have to keep an eye on,” he said. “It would be a lot of maintenance for whoever is involved.”

But he said street artists would flock to it, especially because Quest students would white-wash the board whenever artists ran out of space.

“I think that it being temporary could be part of the excitement,” he said, adding that the appeal of street art is its public nature.

“It’s definitely creating a bigger impact because everyday people see it. It’s not in a gallery. It has more impact,” he said.

Perazzo said she will spend the winter looking for a good location for the board.

“Right now my focus is ensuring the graffiti-removal program gets off to a successful start,” she said. “Absolutely I will revisit this, because it’s an important component. What happened, I think, is people heard the word “graffiti’ and got the wrong impression.”

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