Neighborhood Murals

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Once upon a time, we all hoped painting murals on large expanses of blank walls would be an artful way of preventing or at least reducing unwanted graffiti. But increasingly, our City’s murals are falling victim to taggings so relentless they overwhelm a neighborhood’s ability to remove them within the 10 days required by Seattle Public Utilities (SPU).

N. 57th Street mural photo courtesy

Such is the case for two popular murals in the north end of Seattle: the one in the Aurora Avenue underpass at North 63rd Street and the mural at North 57th Street & Phinney Avenue North, near the zoo. Each will be painted over by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDoT) next Monday, with grudging approval by those neighborhoods’ respective community councils. Ironically, SPU mistakenly painted over the 57th Street mural in 2008, then quickly moved to restore it. Originally painted in 1994, it occupies both of the 50 feet wide and 13 feet high underpass walls and depicts a collection of really big, colorful and friendly-looking animals.

Phinney Ridge Community Council (PRCC) President Diane Duthweiler said that in response to letting her neighbors know about the City’s plan to paint over the 57th Street mural, she was happy to hear from several interested in maintaining it or painting a new one. Her smiles turned to frowns, however, when she learned about SDoT’s revised mural permit requirements. They require annual permit fees and impose fines when graffiti isn’t removed quickly enough from a mural. Reasonable enough, perhaps, but none of the neighborhood residents felt they could afford the expense or risk being fined.

Queen Anne Murals’ 2010 Aurora & Dexter underpass mural painted by Urban ArtWorks w/50 community volunteers

Rob Mattson, the Neighborhood District Coordinator for the City of Seattle, reports that Urban Artworks is one organization that seems to consistently succeed in creating and maintaining murals throughout the city. Urban Artworks’ Emily Taibleson believes that nowadays street art has more potential for being embraced by communities as mural art. She reasons that graffiti artists live in all neighborhoods and if invited to apply their work to an organized mural project, it’s more likely such murals will receive less tagging.

Could partnerships with Urban Artworks return murals to the soon-to-be-blank walls at North 57th & Phinney and at North 63rd & Aurora? I’m not sure, but Diane Duthweiler said she would share my idea with her neighborhood and discuss this partnership possibility for the North 57th Street mural at their next PRCC meeting.


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