Portland Water District will not change use of East End ‘graffiti wall’

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PORTLAND — The “graffiti wall” outside the Portland Water District treatment plant at East End Beach will remain a concrete canvas for local artists.

In a March 30 press release, PWD spokeswoman Michelle Clements said the Board of Trustees Planning Committee recommended no change in the use of the wall, which borders the East End Trail.

“I think it’s important to let the people know that (we) support the use of the wall as it is, (they) need not be concerned that we will change the policy,” Trustee Gary Libby of Portland said.

The committee’s recommendation ends the discussion on the future of the wall, Clements said.

“There was no further action on the issue at the Board meeting since the recommendation was to maintain status quo,” she said.

Since 2000, the wall, which extends for about 100 yards along the trail, has been used for graffiti, although PWD corporation counsel Donna Katsiaficas has said there is no formal agreement between the utility, city, and Portland Trails governing how the wall is used.

The city and Portland Trails are responsible for cleaning up the East End Trail, she added.

At the trustees’ Nov. 28, 2016, meeting, East Bayside resident Jay York asked the board to consider prohibiting graffiti. York said he was concerned spray painting there was encouraging “tagging,” or spray painting graffiti on private buildings on the peninsula.

“(It is) basically a training ground for young criminals to express themselves,” York said.

On Jan. 25, Planning Committee members held a public hearing about the wall, and support for having it remain a site for public art was overwhelming. York and Thomas Blackburn, the owner of a Congress Street building, were the sole opponents.

Blackburn said his building is routinely tagged, but added he was ambivalent about restricting public art.

York said other property owners were ready to submit written comments on the cost and prevalence of tagging, and public health was also at play at the wall.

“You can spray paint while pedestrians and bicyclists are using the trail and that is extremely hazardous,” he said.

Supporters encouraged more vigilance to prevent people from tagging nearby lamp posts and the trail itself, but said the wall is a medium that must be preserved.

“It gives you a place to go and say what you have to say,” city resident Johana Rivera said.

Artist Sean McGovern said the wall brought people together without creating health hazards.

“Children are always curious and so excited when I let them use one of my cans to doodle on the wall,” he said.

In a Dec. 12, 2016 trustees’ meeting, Katsiaficas said any decision about art on the wall could not include content-based bans because of First Amendment issues.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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file Copyright © Sun Media Portland Water District Trustees decided March 27 against banning graffiti from geeting painted on this wall outside the utility’s East End treatment plant.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.