The alley next to Michigan Theater transformed pretty quickly over the summer from a colorful, artistically-coherent mural to a colorful collage of random graffiti – prompting Mr. Limpet to ask, “Where’s the Art?”
In early July, someone painted a swath of white over part of the mural called “Infinite Possibilities,” which had been created there in 1999. The Ann Arbor News ran an article about the incident, interviewing the artist, Katherine Tombeau Cost, who now lives in New Orleans. She said it had taken her five months to complete, but she wasn’t ticked off by the graffiti: “The thing about public art it is an exercise in letting go. You put it out there and you know it is not forever. I have to remind myself this isn’t my family room. That is the element of public art. It will be great and it will be gone.”
And now it’s really gone.
White paint covers most of the brick walls toward the front of the alley’s entrance, and those in turn are plastered with pictures, tags, scrawlings, the occasional expletive and what might pass for deep thoughts if you’re eight years old.
The Chronicle wondered what was in store for this space – were plans in the works to commission a new mural? As we were waiting to hear back from Russ Collins, executive director of the Michigan Theater, we came across a recent post on Jafabrit’s Art blog, which describes this very alley: “Spent a few days in Ann Arbor Michigan and found this wonderful graffiti alley off E. Liberty Street. I saw this pole in the side alley with the same colours as my knit tag and camo doll ( I named her ‘alley cat’) and it was just meant to be.” Photos ensue.
There’s much talk these days about public art – earlier this year, for example, the Ann Arbor city council approved permanent funding for the Commission on Art in Public Places. And you can certainly find officially sanctioned murals throughout the area – an underwater seascape on the alley next to the Huron Avenue Tios, a student-designed homage to the arts on the back of the Ann Arbor Art Center building, and the recently unveiled mural at the Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti. Michigan Peaceworks wants a public mural, too, and is looking for a good spot to put it.
But you can’t get more public (or collaborative, in an intentional/unintentional way) than the organic, visual cacaphony in that Michigan Theater alley. It isn’t so much each individual tag or image, but the cumulative layers of color and words and shapes that create this urban landscape.
Is it art? The Chronicle doesn’t have the critical chops to say. Is it provocative? Absolutely.
And, like other public art, it too will someday be gone. Take your photos while you can.