Burke: Fort Collins embraces graffiti art without the vandalism

Callum Burke, Collegian Columnist

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  • A mural is painted on a transformer cabinet outside the Civic Center Parking Structure in Fort Collins, Sept. 12. The painting is part of the Transformer Cabinet Mural project, which was started as a collaboration between the City of Fort Collins Art in Public Places Program and Utilities Light and Power. The program serves as a graffiti abatement program.

  • A painting adorns a wall in an alleyway outside the Civic Center Parking Structure Sept 12. Fort Collins has a multitude of art displays from local artists around town. One example of the city supporting local artists is Pianos About Town, a program that allows artists to paint on working pianos.

    Collegian | Cat Blouch

  • A mural is painted near Old Town Square, Sept. 12. Fort Collins is known for its murals and celebration of local art. Some examples of the city’s encouragement of local artists include the Pianos About Town and Transformer Cabinet Mural programs, which allow local artists to paint over pianos and transformer cabinets, respectively.

    Collegian | Cat Blouch

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Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board. 

No one can deny how pleasing to the eye graffiti can be, especially in a town as art-oriented as Fort Collins. Our city is full of public art and seems to embrace the talents of those willing to show it off.

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A piano painted in colors of blue and yellow sits in Old Town Square
A piano painted blue and yellow sits in Old Town Square in Fort Collins Sept. 12. The piano is part of the Pianos About Town program, which was started with the hope of bringing local art and spontaneous music to the streets of Fort Collins. (Collegian | Cat Blouch)

Unfortunately, this does not mean anyone who possesses a can of spray paint is able to go to the first brick wall they see fit and start to scribble a cartoon dog or write their name in bubble letters.

In fact, that is vandalism, and in the state of Colorado, if your doodles result in between $750-$1,000 in damages, it is considered a “class 1 misdemeanor punishable with 6-18 months imprisonment and/or $500-$5,000 in fines,” according to FindLaw.

That punishment is not worth giving in to the urge to see your name on the side of that one apartment building near your house.

With that said, graffiti can be a great form of artistic expression, and Fort Collins utilizes those artists in a manner that is quite frankly state-of-the-art. Shown through the many murals that can be found throughout the historic Old Town and the city in general, Fort Collins features two plausible alternatives to keep talented artists busy without breaking the law.

First is Pianos About Town, which combines both art and music for the community. From May through October, different artists are given the opportunity to paint one of Fort Collins’ many public pianos to be shown off around the city and played by musicians taking a break from their day to twiddle a quick tune.

 

“It goes without saying that defacing someone else’s property can have harsh repercussions and is not worth the misdemeanor charge. You can do whatever you want to your own property, but if you have larger aspirations and want your work out in the public, there are many opportunities to do so.”

These pianos are great to see in person around town and truly do make an otherwise mundane-looking instrument really pop on the sidewalk. It just so happens to also keep people from ruining surfaces not meant for graffiti art.

A piano painted in colors of pink and purple sits in a parking garage
A piano painted pink and purple sits in a parking garage in Fort Collins Sept. 12. The piano is part of the Pianos About Town program. (Collegian | Cat Blouch)

Similar are the transformer cabinet murals — my personal favorite. We have all seen those large, boring electrical transformer boxes on the sides of intersections. Fort Collins allows artists to turn those lifeless metal boxes, normally overlooked as eyesores, into works of art that are sure to offer some visual relief while waiting at a red light.

Beginning in 2004, the Transformer Cabinet Mural Project paved the way for artists wanting to get their work seen in a respectful and legally safe manner. Simply put, this project serves “as a graffiti abatement program; the murals help lower maintenance costs while adding bright, colorful art in unexpected places,” according to the Fort Collins Transformer Cabinet Murals webpage.

Since the project’s conception, 377 transformer cabinets have been given much-needed makeovers throughout Fort Collins, and you are sure to find them on your next errands run if you keep an eye out.

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It is a heartwarming feeling to have a city that incorporates its local artists and allows them to express themselves under certain parameters instead of ousting the graffiti art form altogether. It’s safe to say Fort Collins has chosen to embrace this with pride.

It goes without saying that defacing someone else’s property can have harsh repercussions and is not worth the misdemeanor charge. You can do whatever you want to your own property, but if you have larger aspirations and want your work out in the public, there are many opportunities to do so.

For now, go out and enjoy graffiti art and murals, but please don’t try to replicate them unless you have the authority and talent to do so.

Reach Callum Burke at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @burkec0621.