Dallas’ first ‘free wall,’ in West Dallas, gives graffiti artists a legal canvas

About a dozen graffiti artists descended on an abandoned West Dallas warehouse Saturday afternoon, tagging its walls with spray paint.

But for maybe the first time in Dallas, police did nothing to stop it. Some even joined in.

The officers and artists gathered for the opening of the city’s first “free wall,” a place where graffiti is encouraged. The hope, police say, is that giving people a place to tag legally will reduce the amount of illegal graffiti.

Dallas plans to designate six more walls throughout the city in coming years — one for each division the Police Department patrols. The first one is tucked away in an industrial area at 621 Fabrication St. Future sites may be in more heavily trafficked areas.

“We hope you will not only display your talents here, but make your influence on younger artists to do this in a way that is legal,” Assistant Chief Randall Blankenbaker said at the wall’s opening.

To the painters who showed up Saturday, the wall is more than a place to practice their art. It’s a sign that the city sees it as legitimate art.

“I have a great respect for this; art can take on many characteristics,” said Sgt. Elliott Forge, one of the organizers of the project.

Police said Dallas doesn’t have as much of a graffiti problem as other large American cities. The department receives about 60 reports of the form of vandalism each month.

Kirk Garnett, 23, has been painting graffiti since he was 10 years old in Chicago. He was kicked out of high school for tagging and stopped for a while. But when he moved to Dallas, he felt compelled to do it again.

“The art is so vibrant and beautiful that I wanted to pick it back up,” he said.

Now, he teaches after-school graffiti classes at north Oak Cliff’s W.E. Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy. He said some people tag walls simply to make trouble. But he believes the free wall will be successful because most of the artists he knows are in it for something more.

“The art comes first,” he said. “The rebellion and fame come second.”

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