Detroit, a city that spends over $1 million per year to abate blight and remove graffiti, will soon launch a new pilot program called “City Walls.” While it won’t revoke the municipality’s contentious relationship with graffiti artists and taggers, it is still purposed with promoting the city’s public art scene.

The $50,000-funded City Walls program seems to establish an art war between the street artists employed by Detroit and independent graffiti artists. The artists will be tasked with locating sites that could be attractive to graffiti artists and taggers and getting there first to paint; moreover, they will be allowed to paint on public and private properties — a privilege graffiti artists don’t enjoy.

In fact, in 2003, Mayor Mike Duggan (who was a Wayne County prosecutor at that time) charged two taggers with felonies punishable by up to five years in prison. The crime can be a misdemeanor, punishable by fines or up to 93 days in jail, or a felony with up to 10 years in prison. When Duggan took the mayor’s office, the city retaliated against graffiti, resulting in artists and sometimes property owners paying fines in the thousands of dollars.

However, director of Detroit’s General Services Department, Brad Dick, describes the initiative as a new approach to address an old problem for the city. “We’re trying something different for a change because doing the same thing over and over again produces the same result,” says Dick. “We’re also trying to make the city look better and bring some beautification to the city.”

The City Walls program aims to beautify the viaduct in southwest Detroit. Attempting to keep private property owners on the city’s side, City Walls will allow owners that have received tickets for graffiti to have murals painted on the space instead of having to pay a fine. The program’s first round will include renowned artists like Phillip Simpson, W.C. Bevan and Louise “Ouizi” Chen.

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