On Campus

Walls of Whimsy

Local graffitti artists bring colorful energy to South Campus neighborhood

graffiti mural of a yellow songbird.

Graphic designer Elyssa Harper’s vibrant street art. Photo: Aaron Krolikowski (BA, BS ’09)


By Lauren Newkirk Maynard

A giant, yellow songbird perches on a garage door. World flags peek through a solid brick wall. Hip-hop carrots and tomatoes—stars of the kids’ cartoon “VeggieTales”—dance off the side of a building. Brakes, Rusker, OGRE and other Buffalo street artists made their mark on more than a dozen buildings in the University Heights neighborhood last fall, but not with your typical graffiti in mind.

On Oct. 26, 2013, about a dozen writers, as graffiti artists are called, used a rainbow of spray cans to cover up existing tags with colorful, complex “pieces” (short for “masterpieces”) at 16 sites along Main Street near the South Campus. Neighborhood kids helped them fill in the lines, while other volunteers, including many UB students, scrubbed old graffiti from wood and vinyl siding.

Their efforts were part of “Heighten the Heights,” a recent anti-graffiti event bankrolled by a grant from Keep America Beautiful, the nation’s leading nonprofit for community development. Organizers included local public arts group Community Canvases, the University Heights Collaborative and the University Heights Tool Library, a tool rental shop co-founded by architecture and urban planning alumnus Darren Cotton (MUP ’12, BA ’10).

The grant, says Cotton, gave organizers the opportunity “to test the theory that public art is the best abatement to graffiti. These long-forgotten back alleys and buildings have become neighborhood assets and help people appreciate the beauty that already surrounds them.”

With new funding from Awesome Without Borders, an international micro-grant agency, Community Canvases plans to continue Heighten the Heights’ work beyond the neighborhood, spreading art and beauty throughout the area, one city block at a time.