Trustees of the Portland Water District will decide next month whether to continue allowing graffiti artists to paint on a wall in the East End that has been a public canvas since 2000.

Nearly 50 people attended a public hearing Wednesday evening at the district offices on Douglass Street in Portland and with the exception of two people, everyone spoke in favor of preserving the wall.

Those who spoke said the wall has served the city well as an outlet for artistic expression. One well known painter and aerosol artist, Tim Clorius, called the wall a “treasured landmark of Portland.”

“I’ve been painting the wall since the beginning, and it has been a long 16 years, but it has become one of my favorite places in the country to paint,” said Mike Rich, a graffiti artist from South Portland. Rich said his work on the wall has brought him commissions. “Anyone is welcome to paint there, and that is the beauty of it.”

Trustee Gary W. Libby, one of four who represent the city on the board, said he expects trustees will make a decision at their Feb. 27 meeting.

Wednesday’s hearing was hosted by members of the water district’s Planning Committee. The committee, which consists of Libby and Nisha Swinton – a third member died recently – will meet again on Feb. 13 to review public comments before making a recommendation to the 10-member board of trustees.

“I expect to have made a decision by the end of February. We’ll decide to keep it the way it is or to eliminate the wall as a public art space,” Libby told the audience.

In 2000, the city convinced the water district to allow artists to paint on the wall at its wastewater treatment facility, located a few feet from the East End Trail. At the time, officials thought that allowing legal graffiti would reduce graffiti vandalism in other parts of the city.

Portland Water District attorney Donna Katsiaficas said there was no formal agreement drawn up at the time, and the wall seemed to be serving its purpose as an ever changing canvas for artists.

But in September, a controversial depiction of Gov. Paul LePage in Ku Klux Klan garb appeared on the wall.

Libby and other trustees said the district decided to re-examine the wall’s use because a city resident had questioned whether it was encouraging illegal graffiti in other parts of the city, not because of the LePage picture.

That resident, Portland photographer Jay York, said Wednesday that other downtown business owners would have spoken against the wall, but they were concerned they might be targeted by graffiti vandals.

Tom Blackburn, who manages a Congress Street building, said he was conflicted over what to do about the wall.

“Artists need a place to express themselves but my building is tagged, almost daily,” he said. “I’m not sure how to deal with it and it’s driving me crazy.”

“At the end of the day it’s art. Taking that opportunity away from people, you could see a rise in vandalism across the city,” said Said Cato-King, an illustrator who supports keeping the wall.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

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