The space above the awning of Kafé 421 and Al’s Breakfast in Dinkytown is currently home to artwork that’s become familiar in area neighborhoods: graffiti.
While Dinkytown has made efforts to clean the illegal art from buildings by adding 1960s- themed murals to their historic shop exteriors, the city of Minneapolis wants to take the initiative one step further citywide.
The city is offering “Graffiti Micro Grants” of up to $10,000 to businesses, government buildings, churches and parks later this month, for innovative ways to clean and prevent graffiti this spring.
The deadline for grant applications is Friday.
Gratia Reynolds, 62, a long-time Prospect Park resident, is a hawk for spotting and reporting graffiti in her neighborhood.
Reynolds said she calls 311 – the city’s information and services hotline – frequently to report graffiti.
The Riverside Market across the Mississippi River from Prospect Park is covered with murals, but Reynolds said while she agrees that the murals are art, some people don’t, especially older generations.
She also said murals could encourage graffiti artists to tag, or paint graffiti on, the walls anyway, because the murals show that it’s OK to paint there.
“There’s so many of them over in neighborhoods where they’re trying to boost the ego of various ethnic groups, and I think that’s a good thing,” she said. “I don’t think we have anything we need to boost around here; we just need to stop the graffiti.”
Though Reynolds said she doesn’t think murals are the best way to prevent graffiti, Skott Johnson, Dinkytown Business Association president and owner of Autographics, said he disagrees.
“It’s just sort of an understood agreement that public art like that isn’t touched,” Johnson said.
Johnson researched with the Dinkytown business owners to see if murals would effectively prevent graffiti, and he said the idea works.
“We didn’t make this up,” he said. “We read and did research on other areas that said the murals had helped.”
It’s been two years since the Dinkytown businesses invested in the murals, and Johnson said they haven’t been tagged yet.
But Tera Madigan, a graphic design senior, said graffiti, though illegal, can be more free-flowing than mural artwork and is unique to a neighborhood.
“It’s kind of like a treat, almost, if you spot graffiti,” she said. “I don’t think it destroys a community if done properly.”
Madigan said those who tag a building with their initials aren’t graffiti artists. Instead, she considers them vandals.
“Even if it was like on my own garage door, I’d probably leave it if it looked cool,” she said. “If it was just a wall of just ugly tags, then that’s just vandalism.”
While Madigan said she appreciates graffiti, she thinks graffiti artists do respect mural artists.
Though the graffiti above the Kafé 421 awning won’t be removed with a micro grant, Antigoni Sander, the restaurant’s co-owner and general manager, said management has used grants in the past to prevent graffiti.
“We’ve removed graffiti from our windows, we’ve removed graffiti from our back door and our front door before,” she said, “It’s harder to clean up and get when it’s high up like that.”
If the restaurant was to remove the graffiti, Sander said she wouldn’t replace it with murals unless other businesses were to do the same.
“I don’t think that we would do it just for ourselves,” she said. “We’d more likely just try to get rid of it and bring it back to its original façade.”