Going after graffiti in Minneapolis: A project for communities


Enlisting neighborhood residents and youth, the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization is using “public art” to assist with the fight against vandalism. For years, the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization (CNO) has been making ambitious attempts to come up with creative solutions to the problem of unsolicited graffiti and vandalism. The issue is of major concern to residents as well as local business owners. So, said CNO Assistant Director Eric Gustafson, it only makes sense to get them involved in the process of addressing the issue.


Gustafson made a point to distinguish between what he considers artistic forms of expression and plain old vandalism. After showing me a few photos of gang tags spray painted on walls of garages, he explained, “When we use the word ‘graffiti’, a lot of people think we’re talking about hip-hop art – or aerosol art. We love aerosol art. What happens over in this neighborhood is something totally different. This is gang vandalism; there is no attempt at artistic expression here. It’s about marking territory, it’s about youth gangs…we’re trying to do some things with public art, and with landscaping, and with the design of a fence that can just prevent that [gang vandalism] from happening on a property.”


One of the many projects initiated with the intent to curb unwanted graffiti took place on August 20, 2009 at Corcoran Park in south Minneapolis. Kids and adults from the neighborhood came and created “mini murals”, which, according to Gustafson, are “any kind of a miniature board that someone has done some sort of public art on, and is mounted up for the public to see.” Anyone who made a mini mural had the option to take their creation home, or to enter it in a contest in which six mini-murals will be chosen to be prominently displayed at the CNO office.


Eric Gustafson

Eric Gustafson


“The ones that are up on our building get rotated every year,” Gustafson said. “And we’ll have an unveiling ceremony, and have the artists come and have a little celebration when we put them up.”


The workshop, now in its third year, became a recurring event when Gustafson and Corcoran neighborhood resident and art teacher Elise Kyllo were working on a “big, neighborhood-wide” mural project. The mural project involved more than four hundred volunteers, and took longer than a year and a half to complete.


“The whole plan was to try to get participation from the community, especially young people,” said Gustafson, explaining that Kyllo came up with the idea to have a mini mural workshop in the middle of the larger mural project. “She saw it as something that would really appeal to certain people – especially those that work better on their own, or wanted to explore their own idea.”


The process of creating the personal mini masterpieces was facilitated by Kyllo and Melanie Casiday – another art teacher who also lives in the neighborhood. The point of creating these mini murals is to “beautify our neighborhood, and combat graffiti,” said Casiday.


Art teachers

Melanie Casiday and Elyse Kyllo, art teachers


Kyllo hopes that the “young artists – and adult artists – of all skill levels, will have a good time producing some art for the neighborhood; and also for the Corcoran Neighborhood office – which is an annual event [where] we replace art every year.”


As residents who were tired of seeing graffiti, both saw the creation of murals as a deterrent to vandals. “We would add beauty rather than things that distract from the neighborhood,” says Casiday


Gustafson also hopes that projects help young people find ways to creatively express themselves


If other neighborhoods were interested in doing a project similar to the mini mural workshop, CNO would have no problem giving advice to anyone interested. “We recycle a lot of the boards that don’t get put from the year before, but you basically need to just buy some plywood and cut it up. And if you’re a nonprofit, you can get a donation of paint from Valspar Company… so there’s really not a whole lot of costs,” said Gustafson. He believes that the key ingredients are good facilitators, such as Kyllo and Casiday. “They’re both art teachers, so they’re just perfect for something like this. They can work amidst the chaos, and help kids who don’t necessarily have experience.”


Although it was a rainy summer evening, about thirty people of various ages came to participate. Megan, a young artist who is “almost thirteen,” painted a colorful picture that she says “represents the neighborhood, the parks in the city… and the happiness of the sunrise.”


Evie, a seven year old participant, seemed excited about being able to create something from her own imagination. “I’m drawing a bird in a nest, because I just likes birds, and I thought it was a good idea,” explained Evie. No prior art or painting experience was required, and all supplies were provided.


Gauging from the level of community participation in the mini mural workshop, there is a real interest in these types of events. Gustafson agrees: “If we know people want to do this – and clearly this [the turnout for the mini mural workshop] is a demonstration that people do – then we’ll do it. But if the interest goes away, then we’ll move on and do something different.”


Jamal Denman is a freelance writer in Minneapolis.


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