Utica to host students to paint tunnel and plan student art fair

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published September 6, 2021

 Earlier this year, the city of Utica decided to start a Resident Graffiti Committee to deal with the blight  and obscenities in the graffiti in the Davis Street and River Bends tunnels.

Earlier this year, the city of Utica decided to start a Resident Graffiti Committee to deal with the blight and obscenities in the graffiti in the Davis Street and River Bends tunnels.

Photo provided by Sheri Townsend

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Earlier this year, the city of Utica decided to start a Resident Graffiti Committee to deal with the blight and obscenities in the graffiti on the tunnels in downtown Utica. The committee had two meetings and began setting some goals.

One of those goals was to gain control of increasingly vulgar graffiti that was getting out of control in the tunnels.

Sheri Townsend, who is a Utica City Council member, said the city has tried to encourage people who wanted to paint in the tunnels to come and ask permission at City Hall and give an idea of what they would like to paint.

“Our tunnels are what people see entering and exiting our city on the bike trail. These requests have taught us that many people think that you can come to Utica and paint whatever you want in the tunnels. We would like to change this perception,” she said via email.

She said that last year, a graffiti artist painted some “beautiful, vibrant” artwork in the tunnel. Since then, it has been covered with obscenities.

“Our committee had decided that the best way to try to curtail the socially unacceptable artwork was to empower the young people. By letting them take ownership of the work, they can encourage others to not deface it. Utica wants to be known for being a community of art. We have the mural by Wendy Popko and now the flower mural by the DIA. We would like to continue projects like these in the future,” she said.

Another committee goal is to have an event to invite people to create artwork. She initially hoped to have an art fair, but that will take more time to plan and might happen in the spring.

She said the committee has decided to whitewash the Davis Street tunnel and invite Utica Community Schools art students to come paint the clean slate.

“We wanted to be able to provide a venue to showcase artwork around the clock tower; however, with COVID, teachers were not able to collect artwork from students for display. So we decided to try to do something bigger in the spring, and that will give everyone more time to plan,” she said.

She said the initial lack of response from teachers was a little disappointing, but she hopes that in the spring, they can get more teachers involved.

“At this point, I have one teacher who believes she will have eight students. That is enough for me to continue with the date of Sept. 18. The tunnel will be whitewashed on Sept. 12. Team Depot, of Home Depot, has graciously donated some of the white paint. The short notice made it difficult for them to be able to get volunteers to help. We will be purchasing paint for the students to use on Sept. 18, and we are allowing them full, socially acceptable freedom of expression,” said Townsend.

The committee hopes to do more with this in the future and to work on the city’s graffiti ordinance. The committee might do a contest or have a tunnel art day involving local art.

Utica Mayor Gus Calandrino said the city enjoys seeing people’s artwork; however, they are trying to prevent graffiti that is obscene or vulgar.

“Councilwoman Townsend and her husband, Claude, have gone above and beyond to help find ways to deal with the graffiti in Utica. The city welcomes public art that has social and artistic value, but we are trying to find ways to curb obscenity and vulgar tagging,” Calandrino said via email.

He said that, in addition to Townsend, he thanks the volunteers who attended the committee meetings and Home Depot for the donation of paint.

“Councilwoman Townsend has some great ideas about how to minimize the graffiti problem in the future. I’m excited to work with her and the Resident Graffiti Committee to keep Utica looking beautiful,” he said.

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