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Graffiti Tagging Hits Wicker Park Murals, Businesses

By Emily Morris | April 13, 2014 8:44am
 Residents noticed various taggings in Wicker Park as weather warmed up in April.
Tagging in Wicker Park
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WICKER PARK — At least two murals designed to combat vandalism have been defaced in recent months, and while some residents said graffiti is no big deal, others said they've noticed a rise in tagging and described the acts as "classless."

Wicker Park Advisory Council member Doug Wood said he's noticed tagging graffiti on a banner outside Wicker Park as well as on artwork at Damen Avenue and Division Street, which was created to help deter taggers as part of the Orange Walls Mural Project.

"It seems to defeat a theory that we all had that you can control the graffiti with graphics and digital art," Wood said.

There's also tagging on another Orange Walls mural near the soon-to-be XOCO at Milwaukee Avenue and Honore Street, which construction workers at the site said they noticed recently.

The mural project was paid for by the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce's Special Service District Area No. 33, which levies property taxes for various neighborhood upkeep services.

"I’m a little bit surprised because typically taggers, you know, don’t touch the art," said Jessica Wobbekind, a spokeswoman for the Special Service District Area No. 33.

Dee Taira, who owns Rainbo Club near the Damen and Division mural, said the green tagging has been there for months. It was defaced before, she said, and the artist had to paint it over. 

"This is incidental compared to what can happen and has happened," she said, referring to the more violent crime that used to take place in the neighborhood years ago.

"I'm not sure what the big deal is," Taira said.

Tagging certainly isn't new to Wicker Park, and both Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) have both supported efforts to clean it up.

"I think we've done our best to quell it," said Moreno, whose office hosts a number of "graffiti action days." He echoed Wobbekind about the effectiveness of art and said "nine times out of 10 murals are a way to attack this."

According to Chicago Works For You, which pulls from the city's open data, the number of requests called into 311 has ebbed and flowed in the 1st Ward in the past few weeks, though it tends to hover in the top five wards for graffiti removal requests. 

"It's definitely ongoing," Bucktown resident Jenna Werdell, 29, said as she walked her two dogs right by graffiti tagging on a wall near Lillie's Q, 1856 W. North Ave.

Werdell, who has lived in the area for three years, said she's seen new condos vandalized along with small businesses along North Avenue. On Milwaukee Avenue, "tagged" businesses in the past week included Cumin and the side of Rudy's Roundup, among others.

Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation spokeswoman Molly Poppe said crews have been working to combat the graffiti throughout the winter months and beyond, though some residents said they've noticed it piling up.

"I’m seeing quite a bit of it here," said Wicker Park resident David Lepola, who owns graffiti removal service Tag Free and said he's seen "a big uptick" in requests in recent months.

"We're totally swamped," Lepola said.

Moreno suggests that those who notice tagging call his office, and the city asks residents to call 311.

"It just ruins good businesses and depreciates the area," Werdell said. "And it's just classless."