Fighting Hill graffiti a group effort

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The College Hill Neighborhood Association has teamed up with Providence Police to revamp graffiti removal and prevention on College Hill in response to a perceived increase in tagging.

All of the major historic homes in the neighborhood have been hit by taggers, according to co-chair of the CHNA Graffiti Initiative Susan Hardy.

“They’re just opportunists out there to destroy private property,” Hardy said, adding that the initiative “doesn’t consider them artists by any means.”

The group has focused its efforts on raising community awareness about graffiti, Hardy said. When the CHNA first created the initiative three years ago, she and Co-Chair Steven Heck compiled information about graffiti removal and made it publicly accessible on the Internet.

The initiative’s page on the CHNA Web site provides the phone number of the police graffiti hotline and tips to help residents clean up hard-to-remove spray paint. Calling to report an incident or a suspicious behavior is “a great way for the citizens of College Hill to help out,” Hardy said.

In addition to providing information on the Web site, members of the initiative distribute informative flyers and brochures at community events.

According to Hardy, Lieutenant John Ryan, commander of District 9, which includes Brown and much of the East Side, “has made graffiti one of his priorities,” because he recognizes that it is an ongoing problem and receives “plenty of complaints” from residents. The Police Department has “really reached out to the community” due to Ryan’s “style” and his desire to listen to neighbors’ concerns, she added.

Ryan agreed that the police department has adopted graffiti as “a top priority” due to its “good working relationship with the College Hill neighborhood.” He said the amount of tagging has increased significantly, especially “within the last three months,” which has forced the police department to dedicate significant time and resources to the “sometimes daily” problem.

At a meeting Monday night about graffiti on College Hill, members of the CHNA, public safety officers from both Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence police officers and local mural artists joined Ryan in discussing solutions to tagging. Dauna Noble, one of the mural artists in attendance, said Providence needs to have a “public education campaign,” echoing the objectives of the CHNA initiative.

“It seems to me that the only thing that’s really going to help with the really gratuitous tagging is getting them caught much more often,” Noble said.

Providence Police Officer Nicole Darling said it is nearly impossible to know when tagging occurs. She said taggers do not limit their activities to nights and weekends.

Due to the difficulty of catching perpetrators in the act, the group discussed alternative deterrents to vandalism, such as painting murals around the city on walls that taggers would normally claim.

“The biggest thing we can do with murals is take away their canvas,” Noble said.

Jennifer Rydwansky, the other mural artist at the meeting, said murals would “get the neighborhood to respect the wall and respect the artwork.”

RISD Public Safety Officer Kris Paglio said the “rush of getting away with it” could be “channeled into doing something positive for the community,” adding that art programs at schools could serve that purpose.

Hardy said it is both important and effective to educate the community about “how destructive this mode of so-called ‘artistic expression’ is.”

Darling agreed, saying the best way for citizens to get involved is to call the graffiti hot line if they observe someone tagging.

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