I was walking through Bushnell
Park a week ago, heading downtown to get a haircut, when I
saw it. There was graffiti on the beautiful Corning Fountain.
There were small scribbles or "tags" in
several places. Plus, someone had written in thick black letters; "Hey
Whitey Thanks For The Blankets."
This is a bad year for graffiti in Hartford, and it's got to
The 1899 Corning Fountain, which recalls the indigenous Saukiog
Indians, wasn't restored for more than $300,000 a couple of years
ago so some demento could deface it. More broadly, we're about
to start welcoming large numbers of visitors to the new convention
center, and we want them to come back. People return to places
that are clean and safe. Graffiti sends exactly the opposite
The answer, proved in New York and elsewhere, is to keep cleaning
it as soon as it appears, and arrest the cretins who are doing
In 1996, the city outsourced graffiti removal to Hartford Proud
and Beautiful, a subsidiary of the Greater Hartford Arts Council.
The group has three men who pick up litter downtown and on Albany
Avenue, put out the flowers and clean or paint over the minor
graffiti. For the major graffiti attacks, the agency engages
a private contractor as needed.
The budget for the contractor, $50,000 for the fiscal year,
is almost tapped out.
"We could be spending $100,000," said
Mike Zaleski, who heads the program as the arts council's community
services director. Providence, for example, spends more than
$200,000 a year on graffiti removal, and it shows.
Zaleski is a thoughtful and
hard-working guy who understands the need to respond quickly.
It is thanks to his efforts that downtown has much less graffiti
than it did 20 years ago. "The
worst thing is to leave it there. When we stop seeing it we're
in trouble. We must be able to remove it within 24 hours of being
reported, or 48 hours at most," he said.
What keeps him from doing it, when he can't, are the resources.
The crew has plenty of work to do with litter (which seems awful
across the city this year) and flowers. The contractor has other
clients, so cannot always get to the city's calls right away.
When a delicate surface such as Bushnell Park's sandstone and
marble fountain is attacked, additional work is often needed
to avoid damaging the surface.
Since graffiti goes on a lot
faster than it comes off, one knucklehead going crazy with
a can of spray paint can wreak havoc, and this is a problem
now. The cretin whose tag is "eso" is
leaving his droppings all over the place. Some sharp community
police officer could earn his bones by arresting this criminal.
Though it's hard to catch graffiti vandals, police did nab one
a few years ago. The courts made him pay more than $1,500 to
Hartford Proud and Beautiful. That made Zaleski's day.
Another part of the problem is the pitiable condition of the
bus shelters. After The Courant yelled about this in January,
the city asked Hartford Proud and Beautiful to clean the graffiti
off the shelters. Zaleski said they removed what they could,
but that some of the graffiti was etched into the Plexiglas with
an acid-based material, which is virtually impossible to remove.
Thus the opaque look of some of the shelters, those that still
The city is about to issue a request for proposals for a vendor
to take over all the city's outdoor advertising, including the
Procurement officer Lydia Rosario said the bus shelters will
be the contractor's first priority, and that she expects the
contractor to replace the existing shelters with something better.
In addition to the bus shelters, graffiti has popped up in playscapes
and parks around the city.
I should note that very little of it shows any artistic promise,
even in tunnels and other places where the perps have time to
work. Guys, go back to school and take an art class.
The city needs more maintenance in the peak periods, but it
also needs more imagination. There ought to be a school and citywide
environmental awareness movement aimed at litter, graffiti, street
furniture and public spaces. Sandy Parisky, former head of the
Bushnell Park Foundation, wonders if there can't be a program
to train city youngsters to remove graffiti.
Some years ago, Hartford Public High School Principal Amado
Cruz grabbed the kids caught spraying graffiti and sent them
to an after-school graffiti club, which gave them an outlet for
their artistic expression without defacing the neighborhood.
The important thing is to
keep after it. Last week, all but a faint shadow of the "Blankets" graffiti
was removed from the fountain. A couple of days later, someone
scribbled on it again.
Tom Condon is the editor of Place. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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