Local student uses public art to battle graffiti in Ann Arbor

Posted: 10:40 PM, Jul 06, 2016
Updated: 2016-07-07 06:32:37-04

One local college student has spent the last year conducting a social experiment on how to fight unwanted "tagging" graffiti.

Rebecca Arends, who's a psychology student at Eastern Michigan University, was inspired to tackle the graffiti issue because her own massage therapy business kept getting tagged repeatedly.

She did some online research and learned that public art on frequently tagged buildings could reduce the chances of it happening again by up to 83 percent. Arends tried that and it worked for her. In 3 years, her business hasn't been tagged.

So, she decided to use that idea for a year-long social impact class project in her psychology class. The goal was to fight the tagging seen on Ann Arbor buildings.

In May of 2015, Arends found beautiful stencils from New York artist Cate Tinsley online. Then, she called 10 "chronically tagged" Ann Arbor businesses. She showed them a printed copy of what the art would be, gave them choices of several tree options and colors. She said she'd monitor the wall for a year and see what happens.

The 10 walls used to have 50 tags combined, but after the year-long experiment, Arends said they had just five tagging issues.

So why does it seem to work?

Arends says, "Because it's nature .. there's nothing in it that invites a tag or an angry outburst or acting out. I think that's why it's working."

Now, others are trying it, too.

Arends is working with Ann Arbor police Sgt. Thomas Hickey on painting stencils on DTE boxes that have been tagged. They're also getting help from some former "tagging" offenders who are now painting with stencils as part of their community service.

Arends says repeatedly painting over tagging can cost several hundred dollars, but the stencils seem to be working and they're far less expensive. She's encouraged by what her social experiment showed.

"I've had biz owners connect with me, people come up to me give me paint. Everyone has just been uplifted .. and with these challenging have a little hope and happiness is not a bad thing," says Arends.

For a look at TInsley's stencils, go to: