Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 3:14 PM on Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Graffiti vandals leave their mark

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Vandals spray painted the art mural by NOMAR created by artist Tom Reed. The wall was vandalized in October 1985 by Dan Jerrel and Andrew Slayden shortly after Reed first painted it. Reed updated the mural in 2007.

In a repeat of art desecration that angered Homer decades ago, vandals last week defaced "Tribute to Performing Artists," artist Tom Reed's mural on Pioneer Avenue by NOMAR. Reed painted silhouettes of well-known local musicians, dancers, actors and mimes on the retaining wall in 1986 and updated it in 2007.

Sometime late last Tuesday or early Wednesday, vandals spray painted "CEST" and "DFS" on the wall, in some cases as cartoon speech bubbles coming from some of the images. They also painted an illegible scrawl that might say "YOUK." Sometimes called "tagging," graffiti vandals will paint words or distinct logos on private or public property.

The graffiti on the mural is similar to that painted on other businesses on Pioneer Avenue and Old Town about the same time. Other businesses hit were:

• The Homer Theatre next to a wall advertising the Homer Documentary Film Fest;

• The South Peninsula Hospital Annex on Pioneer Avenue;

• A phone company box by Café Cups;

• The tile mosaic on the Homer Chamber of Commerce's sign;

• The GCI building on Greatland Street and the Sterling Highway and a light post on Greatland Street; and

• The wall above a urinal in the men's restroom at A.J.'s Old Town Steakhouse.

In urban slang dictionaries, "cest" is a name for marijuana. "DFS" has many meanings, such as "dating for sport." It's possible the vandals might have been inspired by the letters in "Doc Fest" at the Homer Theatre.

Reed's mural first was defaced shortly after it went up on Halloween 1986 when two Homer men, Dan Jerrel and Andrew Slayden, then in their 20s, painted "gay rites," "Spike," "Spit Rat" and "This is art?" on the wall.

"A community in love with art stood aghast, angry and embarrassed," Homer News reporter Hal Spence wrote in a story then.

The men were caught after outraged citizens offered a reward and an anonymous tipster provided information.

Slayden testified against Jerrel at a jury trial. Jerrel was found guilty and both men served 10 days in jail and paid $819 each in restitution.

The wall was repaired then. In 2007, Reed fixed cracks in the wall, repainted his mural and added new silhouettes in light gray.

"Bummer," Reed said in an email after he heard about the latest defacement.

Reed said the Homer Council on the Arts, which paid to update the mural, has the paint color numbers if it's necessary to repaint the wall. Most of the damage was done outside the silhouette images. Public Works Director Carey Meyer said the city will get the mural repaired soon. Meyer said the wall had been vandalized a few years ago and was repaired.

"It's bad enough when you put it on a building, but when you put it on art work, it's sad," he said.

Homer Public Arts Committee chair Angie Newby agreed.

"It's really sad," she said. "I believe everybody in the community appreciates the value of public art. This was somebody misguided seeking attention."

Homer Police Lt. Randy Rosencrans said graffiti and vandalism like that isn't uncommon.

"But not in such a blatant area," he said. "Not so much on the main drag like that. That's what's disturbing about that."

If businesses had to pay more than $500 to repair the graffiti, that would make the vandalism felony criminal mischief, Rosencrans said.

One business, the Homer Theatre, had to paint an entire wall to repair the damage. Programming manager Colleen Carroll said a worker planned to repaint the front door and trim before the vandalism and went ahead and did the whole east wall.

"It's costly to deal with," she said.

Chamber of commerce workers Nyla Lightcap and Debbie Speakman scrubbed off the graffiti within hours of discovering it, said executive director Monte Davis.

"I was so grateful to my staff that they were willing and able and they jumped on it," he said.

That's the strategy recommended in big cities to respond to graffiti, said Lt. David Parker, a spokesperson for the Anchorage Police Department.

"The quicker it comes down, the less tagging you're going to see in the long run," he said.

Anchorage created a task force, Graffiti Busters, and had a city employee who would repair vandalized property. Parker said some graffiti is gang related, but not all.

"With most taggers, you've got some who think they're anarchists, some who think they're gangsters," he said.

Some have the attitude "I'm going to do my own thing; I'm going to force it on everybody," Parker said.

"That's just lawlessness. It's not expression. You're just being a vicious jerk," he said.

Newby said that if street artists want a venue to paint graffiti and create art, the Public Arts Committee would welcome proposals.

"Maybe if these folks want to come to the table and talk about it, we could create a space," she said.

But not on established art space like "Tribute to the Performing Arts."

"Really, the community needs to speak out and express how sad this is," Newby said. "The consequences are a lot of wasted energy."

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.