The latest addition to the graffiti-covered alley on Liberty Street near the Michigan Theater – known to some as Tripper’s alley, bubble gum alley, or the alley where that one guy dances to Michael Jackson – is arguably the least creative to date.
From the floor eight feet up towards the ceiling, a wall of the mural is now barely discernable beneath a coat of white paint that was applied last week by unidentified vandals.
The back end of the alley, which has been a magnet for graffiti for decades, remains untouched, as do the layers of spray paint and wadded gum that passersby have added over time.
City police don’t know why the mural was whitewashed.
Where the white paint ends, two crusted paint rollers lay on the ground, abandoned and soaked by the rain.
When the original mural was put up in the 1980s, local artists aiming to regain old territory painted it over. In 1999, the city of Ann Arbor commissioned Katherine Trombeau Cost to paint over the graffiti. Her finished product, “Infinite Possibilities,” became a renowned piece of Ann Arbor public art.
But, as before, graffiti artists returned with their own form of painting. Over the next nine years, layers of work have added to the mural’s story.
Art and Architecture Prof. Janice Paul said that graffiti is a common component of many public murals and that whitewashing is “destructive and shocking.”
“I consider it vandalism, if the (graffiti) is established for a long time,” she said.
“In cities there are certain places where there is public agreement for graffiti to take hold, yet it’s still an art form,” Paul said.
LSA alum Lisa Selow said she believes that the mural represents Ann Arbor as a cultural island that embraces the unconventional.
“Ann Arbor has more free expression,” Selow said. “The mural is an art form and represents the freedom of speech.”
Many believe that the artwork is an essential part of the campus and surrounding community. Art and Design senior Romen Uldstein said the mural was important to the Ann Arbor’s aesthetics.
“I think everyone who comes through this town explores the artwork and the architecture of this place,” he said.
The white washing has created a sense of loss for some.
“It’s pretty disappointing, it’s important to have spaces for art, it’s a cool alley to explore,” said Molly Philips, a recent graduate from the School of Natural Resources and the Environment.
Philips recounted that the mural is part of the active fabric of Ann Arbor’s backdrop as an easy-going college town that changes through time.
“It’s disappointing to see spaces like it covered up,” she said.
Yet the white washing has created an opportunity for people to contribute in new ways. In stark contrast to the white base, spray-painted, indecipherable words are already filling the void.