Graffiti is no stranger to Ann Arbor.
It seems that graffiti is everywhere – all over campus and the rest of the city. Graffiti has always decorated building walls, underpasses, the Diag, bathroom stalls, bus stops and stop signs.
But the graffiti seen around campus isn’t just graffiti anymore.
From the “Stop War” stop signs to the spray painted “No war 4 oil” message tattooed above Huron Street just past Main Street, the graffiti around Ann Arbor seems to be a popular method of promoting a message.
“I’ve noticed a lot of graffiti around Ann Arbor, and I think it’s just one of the markers of the city. It wouldn’t have the same feel without it,” Ann Arbor resident Andrew Johnson said while standing in front of a bus stop with a “make art not war” message. “I think this is a pretty harmless way for a person to express their opinions on something, so long as it isn’t on anyone’s personal property.”
Some areas near campus have more spray paint than others. The area between State Street and Fifth Avenue sports messages asking passerbys to do everything from “please please revolt” to “use brains, take action.” Stenciled gasmasks are popular signs of the times, as are peace signs.
Recently, two males were seen writing the words “Paying Tuition = War” on the sidewalk and the flagpole near the Natural Science Building with black spray paint.
Although Department of Public Safety officers were not able to locate those suspects, DPS is expected to pursue a warrant for a 43-year-old non-affiliate who was seen drawing a smiley face in permanent marker, also on the Diag.
But not all graffiti is so friendly. A painting of two Middle-Eastern looking men accompany the words “I love nukes” in one alley, while another wall reads “drop acid, not bombs.”
RC freshman Ryan Bates, a member of the activist group Acting Out, said graffiti has a long historical tradition of being used to voice people’s political frustrations, adding that it is popular all over the world, from New York – where lower-class graffiti artists spray paint train cars and subway walls to tell their stories – and London to Ann Arbor.
“I’ve noticed it’s mostly anti-war and anti-Bush graffiti, and it’s gone up dramatically in the last few months,” Bates said. “I think people are really angry and do not think their voices are being heard, so they take their voice to the street with a can of spray paint.”
Bates added that though he feels vandalism is a problem, it is motivated by a greater problem that exists in society – that people feel disassociated from the government and the decision makers.
“I think people should view it more as a symptom. … I think that it says something about the breakdown of our political system and its ability to tend to people’s needs,” he said.
But others said they feel it’s important for activists to follow the rules while still spreading their message.
“I think, to an extent, it’s fine,” LSA junior and anti-war activist Selcen Onsan said, adding that graffiti is a bold way of carrying a message. But she added that she feels it’s important that those using graffiti to spread their messages follow the rules set by the city and the University. “If we’re going to work with each other and get our message across, we should follow each other’s rules,” Onsan said.
“If you go to the extreme, nobody is going to listen to you. They are closing ears as opposed to getting the message across … they are making people upset.”
DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown said the University promotes graffiti as a form of expression, but only so long as it is done with chalk and on a horizontal surface.
Graffiti down on a vertical surface – such as a wall or bathroom stall – or with a permanent ink or paint is considered a miscellaneous destruction of property.
“The chalking of sidewalks is permissible and no one is to evaluate the content of that chalking,” Brown said.