It’s on stop signs, mailboxes and ATMs. It’s on walls, stairwells and lampposts. Odds are you’ve seen it on your way to class or walked by it and didn’t even notice.
It’s the word “duck” written in neat cursive. While some call it graffiti and others call it art, its presence — plastered on hundreds of obscure locations on campus and throughout Ann Arbor — is difficult to ignore.
Some students have picked up on the trend and have posted inquiries about the artist on blogs. Others, like University alum Preston Hart, have taken pictures documenting the duck tag spots.
Hart first noticed the tags on his way to class about a year ago.
“From then on, wherever I went I’ve been kind of on the lookout for others,” Hart said.
Hart began taking pictures and posting them on his Flickr account, which has 89 images of the graffiti in different places around campus. Hart estimates he has seen at least 50 more.
“I think that the average person doesn’t really notice it, and that’s one of the things that interests me about it because (the tags) are so ubiquitous, especially on Central Campus,” Hart said. “The average person with classes on Central Campus probably passes dozens of them unknowingly.”
Diane Brown, Department of Public Safety spokeswoman, said University police have had to deal with other graffiti sightings this summer, but said she was not aware of the “duck” tag.
Whether it’s an individual or a group of people drawing the signature, if caught, Brown said the subject would be charged based on the cost of the damages.
“If they use permanent paint then it comes down to what is the dollar amount incurred to clean that up and restore that — whether it’s a building or wall or sign or window or whatever it is — (we look at) what dollar amount it would take to restore it to its original situation,” Brown said.
Brown said the subject would also be charged with a misdemeanor for destruction of property, but the charge varies based on the dollar value of the property destroyed.
But, if graffiti artists use chalk, they cannot be fined because chalk is not permanent.
“If someone drew chalk on the sidewalk then technically there’s no damage, and that’s considered freedom of speech, and the rain will wash it away,” Brown said.
Newcombe Clark, owner of Bluestone Realty Advisors and president of the Main Street Area Association, said he has no knowledge as to who is producing the duck graffiti, but said it’s more important to remove the work rather than find its creator.
“What has been found is that the best deterrent to graffiti isn’t doing all the detective work finding out exactly who it is,” Clark said. “It’s just taking care of the graffiti as soon as possible so that other graffiti artists don’t see graffiti, because once you see graffiti you know that you can get away with it, and it kind of self propagates itself.”
In an attempt to eliminate the graffiti scrawled around Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor City Council voted in January to enact an anti-graffiti ordinance. The ordinance requires property owners to remove graffiti from their building within seven days after notification from the city. If they don’t, the city will remove the work, and owners will have to pay the city for the expense.
While the ordinance took effect in May, Clark said he hasn’t witnessed any drastic changes to the amount of graffiti in downtown Ann Arbor, adding that residents have to complain in order for the ordinance to be effective.
“The ordinance, for better or worse, is complaint-based, so there is no one running around basically issuing tickets to anybody unless someone complains,” he said.
Clark said he hopes to organize a “graffiti walk” with the Main Street Association in the near future. The event would occur on the weekend, and members would walk around Ann Arbor, locating graffiti and talking with building owners to inform them of the ordinance.
“(We’d) tell them, ‘Hey, you know there’s an ordinance. You’re in violation. Here’s some information about the grants that theDowntown Development Authority has made available to help pay for the clean up,’” Clark said.
Because building owners and tenants have to pay to remove the graffiti, the Ann Arbor DDA has made grants available for property owners who may not be able to afford to remove graffiti.
“Sooner or later someone is going to call the building owner and say, ‘You’ve got to clean this up,’” Clark said. “So we’re just focusing on educating people that this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on the hook on paying for everything, (because) there are resources available.”
City Council member Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 3), one of the sponsors of the graffiti proposal, said City Council has not yet evaluated the effectiveness of the ordinance.
“I don’t know the extent to which folks have been calling community standards and the actions that have been taken after that — if in fact people have been calling,” he said.
Taylor said City Council will review the ordinance in a report six months to one year from now.
Dave DeVarti, an Ann Arbor resident and co-owner of three condominiums on 212 East Huron, received a notice taped to the door of the building telling him to remove the graffiti on the outside wall.
DeVarti, who likes graffiti, was angry at City Council for forcing him and other building owners to cover it up.
“We’re in favor of graffiti, and we don’t mind it on our building,” he said.
For now, DeVarti complied and painted over it, but he said he plans on fighting the ordinance by posting a sign outside that invites all graffiti artists to paint on the wall.
“We encourage the community to express themselves with graffiti on our building as long as it’s not on the windows,” DeVarti said.
He added that he considers graffiti a “Constitutional right of freedom of expression.”
“If we want to put a mural on it we should be able to put a mural on it,” DeVarti said. “If we want to hire a graffiti artist to put some graffiti art on the back we should be able to do that.”
DeVarti also said the city has bigger issues like homelessness and hunger, and energy should be focused on fixing those problems instead of eradicating graffiti.
“I think the council is wasting its time on things like this,” he said.
While the graffiti in Ann Arbor remains a debated topic, no one seems to know who is behind the duck tags.
Hart said he suspects it may be an LSA student because the graffiti is prominent on Central Campus, citing the fact that he has seen some in Angell Hall and none on North Campus.
Whoever is behind all of the “duck” tags, Hart doesn’t mind seeing the word scattered everywhere.
“I’ve always enjoyed finding them just because I’ve turned it into a little game,” he said.