The Rapid City Arts Council now requires artists to obtain a permit to paint in Art Alley. The process, however, will not achieve what the Council is hoping for.
By Ali Weber
Nearly everyone who resides in Rapid City is familiar with Art Alley. It’s considered a public gallery and it’s been one of the town’s key features since 2003. It is extremely popular among residents and tourists alike, but recently, the policy of adding your own art to the alley has changed. In an attempt to rule out gang-related graffiti, anyone wishing to paint there must receive a permit, according to the Rapid City Arts Council. Based on my personal experience, I believe permits should not be required to paint in Art Alley.
Firstly, Art Alley provides a place for artists to expose themselves to the community. Many local artists have used the alley to start their careers and to practice their work in an unbiased environment. In all museums and galleries, the curator or director decides who and what kind of art is allowed into their building, creating a very specific, and often limited, perspective. Art Alley defies this because anyone and everyone was allowed to paint there, making it a very artistically diverse place, a sort of cocktail of art styles and concepts. When artists are creating something from their own psyche, without trying to please anyone, it will always be more inspiring. Another positive aspect of Art Alley is that it was a great place for young artists to learn about the style of street art, and meet other artists in Rapid City.
While many other cities also have public spaces devoted to street art, few are as developed or as inspiring as Rapid City’s.
Secondly, and most importantly, Art Alley makes Rapid City a unique place and attracts tourists. While many other cities also have public spaces devoted to street art, few are as developed or as inspiring as Rapid City’s. Artists here paint over old murals often. This achieves two things: it makes you treasure the art because there’s a limited time it can be seen before being painted over and secondly, it avoids the problem of tagging (Scribbling something over someone’s piece). I’m not against this, it’s the nature of Art Alley, and it keeps the alley constantly changing. However, recently, artists who cannot obtain or disagree with having to get a permit have not painted over anything, keeping the same pieces until they get tagged, making the alley look unprofessional and neglected. Art Alley attracts many tourists because it is in the center of town, but recently, the whitewashing of whole buildings stating “NO PAINTING ALLOWED” ruins the immersion effect for tourists.
Many people say permits regulate what is being painted, so no offensive or hurtful art can be painted for the public to see. However, as I mentioned, constant re-painting mostly solves this. In addition, many rude or explicit things are painted over as soon as they are noticed, in my experience. It’s almost an expectation as an artist there to keep it a positive space for everyone painting and just walking through. Since permits have been required, only more of this will appear without anyone painting over them frequently.
In conclusion, requiring permits has done more harm to the art community of Rapid City than it has done to prevent actual graffiti. Although the intentions were in the right place, it’s not helping the local community or tourism, which Rapid City heavily relies on. It’s turning a previously positive and inspiring place into a restricting, boring alley. To quote an iconic street artist, Banksy, “Speak softly, but carry a large can of paint.”
Photo: Art Alley 2 by Wayne Hsleh on Flickr