Wall art may soon be graffiti in Port

Council poised to pass ordinance outlawing chalk drawings that for years have been allowed along hill

A DETAILED SUPERMAN figure in chalk was added to a Father’s Day message on the Jackson Street retaining wall in Port Washington in 2016 by Nick Kopp. City officials have embraced the chalk art for years but this week began the process to eliminate graffiti, effectively banning the public art, because of recurring issues with people using chalk paint, which doesn’t come off easily, and inappropriate messages. Press file photo
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

For the last seven years, the public has been invited to create chalk art on the Jackson Street retaining wall east of Franklin Street, which has become an attraction for the wide array of figures and sayings found there — but that’s about to change.

On Tuesday, the Common Council reviewed a draft ordinance that would prohibit graffiti on public and private property, a measure city officials said is based in large part on problems stemming from the Jackson Street wall.

“It’s been a recurring problem,” City Administrator Tony Brown said. “In some cases, content is an issue. In other cases, it’s what people are using.

“People will say, ‘It’s just chalk’ but quite a few times we’ve found it’s chalk paint. We have to go and blast it off.”

The Jackson Street wall became a public art showcase in 2016, when Barbie Schmit of Port began writing holiday messages there. Not long after that, an art class at Thomas Jefferson Middle School came down and illustrated her sayings.

From there, it grew. At times, the wall has been covered with drawings and comments while at other points, it’s been nearly empty.

The chalk art was embraced by officials, with former Mayor Tom Mlada saying, “It’s kind of neat to see a little bit of life there.”

But even then city leaders warned they would keep a close eye on the wall to ensure there weren’t problems.

The proposed ordinance would make it unlawful for anyone to “write, draw, inscribe, mark, scratch, scrawl, paint, spray or otherwise place graffiti of any kind” on any public or private property without the owner’s consent.

Exceptions are city-sponsored public art activities and “temporary and easily removable” water-soluble markings on streets, sidewalks and other paved surfaces for children’s activities such as hopscotch.

The proposed ordinance, which is similar to laws passed in Grafton, West Bend and Sheboygan, requires property owners to remove graffiti within 15 days if it is visible by the public or they will face a fine.

If they don’t remove the graffiti, the city can step in and remove it, then charge the cost to the property owner.

It’s that part of the proposed ordinance that concerned some aldermen, who said it could be a burden on private property owners.

“I have a real issue with putting that burden on property owners if someone tags their property,” Ald. Dan Benning said. “I get we don’t want this stuff out there. But that could be very expensive.”

And depending on the time of year, he said, it could be difficult for a property owner to comply.

Brown said the city’s building inspector is reasonable and will provide extensions if someone is taking steps to remove graffiti.

Brown said that while the public art may be on its way out, the wall still may become a canvas. The city is working with the Port-Saukville School District on a plan that could see each slab on the wall become an art installation.

And Mayor Ted Neitzke said that the city’s Art Council is working with a mural company on a plan for a professional art installation done with student involvement, something he hopes will become reality by next summer.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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