May 3, 2012

Getting graffiti out of the ‘Burg

Over the past year, graffiti in downtown Galesburg became significantly more prevalent and several Knox students and community organizers have taken the initiative to start cleaning it up.

The program created for this goal is known as the Graffiti Response Program. The program, a collaborative effort between the Galesburg Downtown Council, the City of Galesburg, the Galesburg Chamber of Commerce, the Galesburg Community Foundation, Center for Midwestern Initiatives (CMI) and Knox College is aimed at making Galesburg more “socially marketable,” according to CMI intern junior Josh Tatro.

“When investors come in, or, for that matter, when new students come into town, we don’t want the first thing they see to be graffiti,” Tatro said.

The Downtown Council, who launched the project, although separate from the city government, has access to funds to use on maintenance for the downtown area. According to President of the Downtown Council and Director of Campus Safety John Schlaf, members of the Downtown Council have been active in trying to clean up the graffiti for years, but due to the complicated relationship between the city government and local businesses, progress has been difficult.

“This is kind of a unique situation where you have graffiti on private property,” Schlaf said. “The city is in a position where it’s much more difficult to address graffiti on private property than it is … on public property.”

Responding to this relationship between business owners and the city, the Downtown Council proposed that, instead of holding business owners responsible for cleaning up the graffiti, a volunteer task force be created to clean up the graffiti with permission from the owners of the property.

The resulting task force included Tatro, post-baccalaureate and CMI intern Helen Schnoes ’11 and Schlaf, as well as other Knox students and CMI interns.

In addition to helping clean up the graffiti, Tatro created interactive tags on Google maps to indicate graffiti sites in Galesburg in order to raise awareness and further the project. Green tags indicate that the site has been cleaned up, while red tags indicate that graffiti is still present.

“I put together that map … so that people could see … that it’s an actual problem as opposed to something that the town can just sweep under the rug.”

In addition to the goal of makI “I put together that map … so that people could see … that it’s an actual problem as opposed to something that the town can just sweep under the rug.”

In addition to the goal of making the city more economically viable, the project is also aimed at emphasizing the positives of Galesburg and thereby developing a sense of pride in the town community.

“People don’t often fully realize the impact that the physical environment has on your everyday life,” Schnoes said. “It’s my impression that it’s easy to dismiss … but when there is that sort of defacement … it probably can, in some ways, bleed into more significant barriers to pride in your community.”

Although progress has been made, other obstacles have presented themselves. In her conversations with Knox students, Schnoes noted that there was some hesitance to join the project due to the perception of the graffiti as being “street art.” However, Schnoes remarked that, “It seems like where we were working, it wasn’t anything approaching street art … it’s just defacement.”

The first official clean up with the task force was Saturday, April 14, and it included people from both the Knox and Galesburg community. Schlaf emphasized the importance of the Knox student body’s participation with the community in the clean up.

“Even though we all come from different backgrounds and we all had different personal goals, we all had a common goal as it related to improving the appearance of our community.”

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