Vandalism Leads Denver's Urban Arts Program To Summon Artists Back

Feb 13, 2017

Recent incidents of vandalism badly damaged several murals along the popular Cherry Creek Trail in Denver. The murals are part of the Urban Arts Fund -- a program intended to deter vandalism.

“We’ve found that if you take away that blank wall, usually taggers prefer a blank canvas,” said Michael Chavez is Denver’s Public Art program manager. “They don’t usually vandalize an existing mural.”

The Urban Arts Fund was created in 2009 and since then has commissioned more than 160 murals throughout Denver. It’s similar to programs in Fort Collins and Loveland, which commission artists to paint frequent graffiti targets such as transformer boxes.

While vandalism does still happen, it’s usually minor and easy to clean up, Chavez said. Most of the program’s maintenance budget goes to upkeep caused by the natural wear and tear of simply being outside.

Brazilian painter Alexandre Orion’s murals were vandalized last month.
Credit Courtesy of Urban Arts Fund

The murals did not have anti-graffiti coatings, but Chavez said that with such a large amount of spray paint, it would not have made much of a difference in this case.

“Unfortunately, nothing is impervious to vandalism,” he said. “There’s only so much you can do about artwork that’s in the public sphere. And it’s out there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so if someone wants to vandalize something, there’s not a whole lot we can do.”

Because of the extent of the vandalism, Chavez said the original artists -- Brazilian painter Alexandre Orion and Denver muralist Nigel Penhale -- will be brought back to restore the works.

The city is still working with insurance adjusters to find out just how much it will cost to restore the works. Chavez said the goal is to have the murals restored within the next month.

“(The artists) know that we support them, and that we’re going to pay to have it fixed,” he said. “We’re not going to just let it happen. But it’s tough, it’s disappointing. I’ll never understand what compels someone to destroy someone else’s artwork.”