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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Then and Now: the writing on the walls of the downtown railroad viaduct

Graffiti – illicit writing in public places – has been around for most of recorded history. But it really became commonplace in modern times with the advent of aerosol paint in 1949 and the permanent marker.

For some, it’s an art form and a connection to urban and hip-hop culture. For many, it’s a visual blight; its presence is often seen as a detriment to neighborhoods because it hints at gang activity. For those charged with keeping cities attractive and welcoming, there is little redeeming value.

When the Goodwill Games came to Spokane in 1990, the Spokane Arts Commission and Central Business Association teamed up to put something, anything, on the large concrete faces around the railroad viaduct running through downtown. The Arts Commission solicited professional and amateur volunteers for mural projects to replace sloppily spray-painted symbols with whimsical illustrations, classical art and cartoons.

The Games, an Olympics-style sporting event put on by cable TV magnate Ted Turner, brought three sports – women’s weightlifting, volleyball and rhythmic gymnastics – along with thousands of athletes and visitors to Spokane for the first time. Even though the final numbers were somewhat disappointing for local businesses, the fresh art on walls, which might otherwise be filled with graffiti, has become a tradition.

A handful of walls are filled with a “People’s Gallery,” in which many volunteers each take a square or section and fill it with their own personal vision. The People’s Gallery on the retaining wall on the north end of the Maple Street Bridge was recently replaced with a 575-foot piece by Todd and Cain Benson celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Waste-to-Energy Plant. The brothers also placed the mural of faces on retaining walls at Second Avenue and Maple Street, as well as inside the entry of the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

For nonsanctioned works, the city of Spokane has a graffiti program which encourages prevention as well as reporting through a mobile app and removal by the landowner or city personnel who monitor public spaces and help private property owners who are unable to remove it themselves.

For more information about Spokane’s graffiti prevention program, visit my.spokanecity.org/police/prevention/graffiti.

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