“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” - Mark Twain
by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Seattle’s approach to graffiti has been evolving rapidly over the past few years. According to the Seattle Police Department, the East Precinct faces a very active community of taggers, especially in the form of “communicative” graffiti that sends a political message. In 2011, the SPD even placed Detective Christopher Young in the unique role of a full-time graffiti investigator.
Young previously worked cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. At the same time, activist groups, volunteer organizations, and even schools have made Capitol Hill the preferred canvas of legitimate street art that transcends random profanity and anti-establishment statements painted on the city’s walls. Backed by over $100,000, a street art group called Stunning Seattle is about to embark on one of the largest public art projects in the Emerald City’s history.
Stunning Seattle was one of 15 organizations to receive a Large Projects Fund award from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods matching fund system this winter. After raising money, volunteer hours, and other resources equal to $82,325, Stunning Seattle received an additional $49,251 from the city to pursue the Seattle Neighborhood Beautification Mural Project. The effort, set to begin in the summer of 2013, will bring five new murals to blank walls around Capitol Hill.
The Hill is no stranger to mural art, especially in the past year. The Northwest School completed a vast painting on the wall of the Villa Apartments on Pine and Boren last summer that overlooks the Plymouth Pillars dog park, while the Unpaving Paradise project recently added a tile mural to the 37-plot P-patch installed in a former Capitol Hill parking lot. Just as Stunning Seattle is priming the first of its new murals, students from the Northwest School may be putting the finishing touches on their next public piece in an as-yet-undetermined location.
There has also been a lot of talk about using murals to address the construction of yet more blank walls at some of Capitol Hill’s many ongoing development projects. Specifically, the community has targeted the so-called “Costco Wall” of the mixed-use building intended for the 10th Avenue and Union lot as an ideal place for a mural.
Despite all of this city-sanctioned enthusiasm for public art, graffiti is still a touchy subject in Seattle. One of Stunning Seattle’s main contributors, the Graffiti Defense Coalition, questions the validity of tax dollars being spent to remove unwanted graffiti from privately owned buildings and funding Detective Young’s position. The GDC has even attempted to organize a free, volunteer-driven cleanup team who would double as evangelists for positive street art. The SPD has no plans of shifting Det. Young out of his current role, though. Especially following the disturbances at the 2012 May Day protests, Young and spokespeople for the SPD insisted that investigating graffiti tied to political statements and gang activity is vital to public safety. Following the May Day demonstrations, police representative Sergeant Sean Whitcomb told the Seattle Times, “[Detective Young's] work, and that of other detectives in the department, really helped us to forecast the possibility of violence on this scale.”
Having just received their Large Projects Fund award, Stunning Seattle is only in the earliest planning stages for the five murals going up this summer. The organization has promised to involve the community in selecting the themes and designs of each piece. Spearheading this and other kinds of outreach for the Neighborhood Beautification Mural Project is an organization called The World is Fun. The Seattle-based TWIF organizes volunteers and performs fundraising for a variety of organizations, including the foster care program Treehouse and the new Museum of History and Industry opening on Dec. 29 at Lake Union Park.
The Capitol Hill Times will continue to provide updates about Stunning Seattle and the 2013 summer mural project as it develops.