City of Columbia Trying to End Downtown Graffiti

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COLUMBIA - Graffiti is a growing concern in the downtown area, according to Columbia Police. Officer Tim Thomason said over the past couple of years the crime has become "problematic." The city has created unique programs to limit the presence of graffiti and prevent the crime from happening.

Bill Cantin, neighborhood response coordinator for the city, is in charge of a volunteer program that cleans up downtown areas heavily "tagged" by graffiti paint.

Cantin told KOMU 8 News the Columbia Police contacted the city to implement a volunteer program about two years ago. Volunteer groups and organizations can adopt graffiti hit areas downtown.  After adopting an area, that group is given cleaning supplies to go out and remove the graffitti. Cantin said he has led thirty clean-up groups in the past two years.

"We bring in people from youth groups, churches, college organizations, and even people that have to do community service if they've gotten in trouble, " he said. "Research shows if you remove graffiti within 24 hours, it will prevent it from happening again."

Jennifer Perlow owns PS Gallery on Walnut Street in downtown Columbia. She told KOMU 8 News graffiti artists have targeted her gallery two times since 2010.  Perlow said the first time graffiti artists hit her store, they left graphic paintings.

As an artist, she said the vandalism frustrated her. But she added, she believes there is a difference between graffiti as a form of vandalism and a form of art.

"They can be really amazingly beautiful, so I appreciate that, for some people, it's an art form. Most of it...it's just vandalism. Just like breaking somebody's car window, you are destroying somebody else's property."

Perlow's husband, director of the Columbia Office of Cultural Affairs, is in charge of the "Traffic-Light Box Program." Once a year, the city picks a traffic box heavily targeted by graffiti to paint and hopefully deter graffiti artists from "tagging" the boxes.

"Traffic boxes were getting tagged, getting stickered all the time, and one of the things they found is that generally, artists and even graffiti artists will not cover up another artist's artwork."

Perlow said the city plans to continue the program until every traffic box in Columbia is painted.

For volunteer opportunities in Columbia, click here.

To sign-up for the graffiti removal volunteer program email Bill Cantin at bpcantin@gocolumbiamo.com.

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