Graffiti Busters return shine to city's streets

7:23 PM, Apr 22, 2013   |    comments
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PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- For nearly two decades, the Graffiti Busters' bright yellow pick-up truck has been a staple on the city's streets.  With its extended cab, beat up body and bed full of gear, the truck and its crew answer the call for help when someone has decided their own color scheme and 'artistic eye' is a wanted addition to the city's landscape, when often it is not.

"They say art is in the eye of the beholder," laughed Learning Works' Director of Development, Linda Cohen. 

"For the people who don't want it, and don't want it on their property, you know it is a good service that we provide," she added.

Since 1994, the Graffiti Busters have been called upon to remove spray paint and sharpie ink from building facades, bridges, sidewalks and walls of all kinds.

Last year, the group removed graffiti from roughly 25,000 square feet of space in the city.  Officials estimate they have removed more than 400,000 square feet since their inception.

"It is pretty neat to see it coming off," said Cohen.  "It is a lot of work."

"What was a green tag is now a melted away green tag and we are going to take a power washer and wash it away," explained one of the Graffiti Busters, who asked that we only use his first name, Kevin.

The two-man crew applies a special chemical compound designed to lift the paint off the surface it was applied to, then they use the power washer to erase the unwanted 'art'.

Kevin says most of what they focus on is crudely spray painted tags - names or symbols associated with either the artist, or in some cases, a gang. 

"The way I feel with graffiti is, if it is gorgeous and you put your time and effort into it, it is worth changing the face," explained Kevin.  "But if you just go out, and you are going out to tag your name, it is like, what are you doing? You are just like claiming this wall?  It is not going to be your wall just because you wrote your name."

The city contracts Learning Works to provide the service to property owners free of charge.  In turn, the non-profit uses the truck and tools to help teach young adults job skills and give them a chance to earn some cash.

"It gives them a sense of pride, a sense of accomplishment," stated Cohen.  "It also gives them a new skill."

While at the same time, keeping the city looking inviting for residents and visitors alike.


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