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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Art attack: Spokane Arts volunteers clean public murals downtown

Artists Shelby Allison, on left, and Alex Sommer with Spokane Arts revitalize a mural painted by artist Melissa Cole in 2014 under the railroad viaduct on Lincoln Street on Tuesday in downtown Spokane. Spokane Arts has been working at cleaning, removing graffiti and touching up the murals they commissioned around town.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Dust, dirt, grime, graffiti and the occasional splattering of food were the targets of a weeklong effort by about 50 artists and volunteers as they worked to refurbish nine murals throughout the downtown Spokane core for its Spring Mural Cleanup.

Spokane Arts, the organization leading the effort, typically works during the winter to clean the murals with a single maintenance person.

“This year is a little different in that we are working through bigger backlog from damage that happened during pandemic backlogs,” Spokane Arts Director Melissa Huggins said. “That’s why we did this really big push to kind of wash the murals. There were a few locations that just got attacked that were beyond their ability to fix as one person.”

Pandemic-related budget cuts, as well as a lack of traffic throughout downtown during the lockdowns in 2020-21, had a negative impact on the city’s murals, Huggins said.

The cleanup coincided with the Downtown Spokane Partnership’s Spring Clean Up week, which began on Monday.

“I really believe in the power of public art to make a place cool to live in,” said Mariah Boyle, herself a muralist and an art professor at Spokane Falls Community College. “They make it more beautiful to live in. They give people something to think about.”

Boyle was among 40 volunteers, 10 artists and a few Spokane Arts staff who joined the cleanup effort this week.

“It’s pretty amazing what a big difference it makes to just wash off the murals,” said Huggins, who was at the cleanup of the Maple Street Mural at Maple and Second on Saturday. “We had 15 volunteers and staff that day scrubbing the wall, but what a world of different that makes just washing it. It makes the colors pop more.”

An anti-graffiti coating was rolled over the refurbished murals on Wednesday. The coating allows for easier removal of graffiti from murals with a power washer, Huggins said.

“What were talking about is gang tags on top of existing artwork,” she said. “There is a difference between legitimate street art. There are street artists who are amazing at their craft.”

The murals throughout Spokane also help prevent graffiti tags throughout the city.

“If you look at locations where the city just has a blank gray wall or a utility box that doesn’t have an artistic wrap on it, those are what get tagged because it’s just a blank surface,” Huggins said.

The quicker Spokane Arts removes the tags, the less likely they are to return in the same spot, she said.

The effort to clean downtown murals began over the weekend and ended Wednesday. Several other Spokane murals outside of the downtown core also will be cleaned later in May.

“I just feel like the murals make our city more vibrant,” Boyle said. “They’ve been in need of a little repair work for a while now. I think people have noticed that.”