For 15 years, the graffiti wall at the East End Wastewater Treatment Facility in Portland has served as a welcoming canvas for artists and others searching for a place to express their creative impulses.

But now there is a movement afoot to banish the Portland Water District’s so-called graffiti wall. The district’s Board of Trustees is scheduled to discuss the future of the controversial wall at a workshop Monday night.

The agenda states, “A discussion will begin regarding continued use of the wall at the treatment plant for graffiti art purposes.”

The topic was added to the agenda after Jay York, a Bayside resident and photographer, asked the board at its Nov. 28 meeting to consider banning graffiti painting on the wall and converting it to a mural.

“There are a lot of us who feel the existence of that wall sends a mixed message to the community,” York said. “Graffiti is illegal anywhere else in the city. The wall has basically become a training ground for young criminals to express themselves.”

York said he was speaking for East End property owners and business owners who believe the graffiti wall encourages graffiti painting in other places where it is not allowed. Graffiti is showing up in neighborhoods surrounding the treatment facility wall, he said.

“We feel the graffiti wall has been a failed experiment,” he said.

Michelle Clements, a spokeswoman for the water district, said the city approached the district about 15 years ago and asked if it would allow the wall to be used by graffiti artists. Clements said the wall was already being defaced, so the notion of designating it for use as a graffiti wall seemed like a good idea.

“It turned into a revolving canvas. People are always out there,” Clements said.

But in September, the 100-foot-long wall, which borders the Eastern Promenade Trail, was painted with a scathing depiction of Gov. Paul LePage dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Later in the day, the graffiti depicted the governor wearing Mickey Mouse ears.

At the time, Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said the Klan depiction bordered on hate speech and should be removed.

“I do not want it up there. It is not reflective of our values,” Strimling told the Portland Press Herald.

But Strimling said Wednesday night that he would object to shutting the graffiti wall down. Other than the Asylum nightclub, which allowed graffiti on an adjacent exterior wall before the wall was torn down during renovations, there are no other places in the city where artists can legally display their talents.

“I’d be very disappointed to see the wall come down. It has served as a valuable asset to the community and to young people,” the mayor said. “If you take it down, graffiti will increase elsewhere in the city.”

City Councilor Belinda Ray in her online newsletter said, “Personally, I’m a big fan of that wall. It provides an opportunity for artists from all walks of life an open canvas on which to express themselves and gauge public reactions to their work.

“While the wall may, from time to time, contain controversial images, it does a great job of policing itself,” Ray wrote. “Artists who use the wall are, for the most part, respectful of one another’s work, and it is a wellspring of creativity and collaboration.”

The water district board does not allow public comment at its workshops and no decision will be made during it, said Guy Cote, chairman of the trustees. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district offices, 225 Douglass St.

 


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