Like any big city, Seattle has its share of big-city problems. Unwanted graffiti is one such example. Riding along the freeways and walking the streets, one sees the blight of spray-painted tags, “throw up,” “blockbusters,” and other similar forms of public defacement. Whether criminal vandalism or “misplaced artistic expression,”1 as Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell has characterized it, graffiti can elicit a strong reaction with the line between crime and art sometimes blurring. Seattle has long worked to address unwanted graffiti2 and actively encourages sanctioned public art in surprising and awe-inspiring ways.
The Emerald City has one of the richest art scenes in the world3. In 1973, it was one of the first cities in the U.S. to adopt a percent-for-art ordinance4, which allocates 1% of eligible city capital improvement project funds for the commission, purchase, and installation of artworks in a variety of public venues. Visitors will find an abundance of public art, including graffiti- and street-art inspired works.
Murals have long been a particularly thriving art form in the city. Prompted by a surge in unwanted graffiti since the pandemic began, Seattle is endeavoring to revitalize its streets. Downtown Seattle Association (DSA), a non-profit member organization, has put out a call for building walls as canvases for colorful murals to “bring more art into downtown and create a richer urban experience.”5
Even Mayor Harrell’s “One Seattle Graffiti Plan”6
to beautify Seattle and address a surge in graffiti includes a “Many Hands Art Initiative,” which seeks to engage with artists, businesses, volunteers, and others to activate spaces with sanctioned art.