KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A year after Kalamazoo built its first graffiti wall at a local park, its success is prompting the Parks and Recreation department to add more across the city.
The idea was first proposed in 2018 to curb graffiti at skate parks. The city commission voted and passed it as part of the Imagine Kalamazoo master plan but installation was delayed because of the pandemic.
Three years later, Guillermo Sotelo, a Grand Rapids artist who had recently moved to Kalamazoo, encouraged the parks department to reinvigorate the graffiti wall idea.
“I met with Guillermo a few different times. We came up with the idea of what the wall would look like and it was just going to be a pilot project and see how it went,” Kalamazoo Parks and Recreation Director Patrick McVerry said.
As a collaboration between Sotelo and the Community Planning and Economic Development division of the Parks and Recreation Department, a graffiti wall was installed in UpJohn Park near one of the largest skate parks in town. Sotelo was the first to paint the wall in the fall of last year. McVerry said artists from around the city use it as a place to express themselves.
“Throughout the summer, you could actually see the wall change with different artists and different designs almost weekly. And it’s been a great hit not only in the community, but for some of the local artists that didn’t have areas where they could paint or design things and express themselves,” McVerry said.
There are some guidelines to make sure that the art is appropriate, including a ban on foul language and a rule that Sotelo came up with:
“If it’s something that you wouldn’t want to show to your grandmother, don’t paint it. … And we actually used that, that’s a specific rule on the sign: If you don’t want to show it to your grandmother, don’t put it on the wall,” McVerry said.
If you are going to paint over another artist’s art, McVerry said the city encourages you to credit them.
“One of the rules is, if there’s art on the wall, take a picture of it, put it on social media, tag the artist that you’re covering up, just so they have the recognition in case someone didn’t see it in time,” he said.
So far, the community has kept it clean. McVerry said the project has been successful.
“It actually has kind of helped subside some of the graffiti that was at the skate park that we were having a hard time controlling and keeping, for lack of a better word, PG for everyone to view,” McVerry said. “I think the success of this wall giving artists not only the ability to do something at the skate park but also at the graffiti wall … really helped. I have not heard bad word about the graffiti wall yet and people love to come by and look at it.”
It has been so successful, in fact, that the city is planning to install a few more in the spring. One is set to be in the Davis Street Park in Kalamazoo’s Vine neighborhood. Like UpJohn Park, Davis Street Park also has a skate park that often has graffiti. Another location the city is considering is Rockwell Playround on Trimble Avenue near Humphrey Street in the city’s Eastside neighborhood.