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Arts Council looks to revitalize Art Alley
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New designs for Art Alley

Arts Council looks to revitalize Art Alley

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Three years after Rapid City began to regulate a popular downtown public art space, an effort to revitalize it is just getting underway.

One of the first major chapters in Art Alley's so-called renaissance unfolded Wednesday with the addition of a brand new mural. Children and teenagers from local youth programs worked with members of the city Police Department to paint the piece that afternoon.

The purpose of the collaboration, according to Derek Smith of the Rapid City Arts Council, is to send a message of inclusiveness. 

“My intention is to create more of a community," Smith told the Rapid City Journal.

Running parallel to Main and St. Joseph streets and between Sixth and Seventh streets, the alley has acted as Rapid City's unofficial street art gallery for more than 10 years. As the Arts Council's community engagement coordinator, Smith is its de facto overseer. 

The Arts Council has managed the alley since 2016, when Rapid City enacted an ordinance intended to protect its property owners from graffiti. At the time, some complained that the alley's more traditional mural work was being scrawled over with tags.

The ordinance allowed the Arts Council to draw up a permitting system for the alley. Today, a permit can be obtained at the Dahl Arts Center in a matter of minutes and at no cost, with applicants selecting the spot in the alley they wish to paint over using a numbered grid.

Response to the system appears to be mixed.

For some artists, the requirement for a permit can be seen as intimidating, said college student Kady Jo Dufloth. A studio arts major at Black Hills State University, Dufloth made a recent contribution to Art Alley herself.

Dufloth said that she didn't personally feel stifled by the need to obtain a permit.

“The process of it is really simple," she said.

Still, she said other artists might feel differently. Smith, who joined the Arts Council at the Dahl several months ago, sees things similarly.

“Art Alley just kind of seemed to be really stale due to the implementation of the permit system," he said.

Smith said about 22 permits were issued in 2018. Older records were not immediately available, making it difficult to assess whether the system has attracted or discouraged aspiring artists.

Arts Council leaders, meanwhile, remain hopeful that the system will funnel more talent into the local arts community.

For example, a fledgling artist may come to the Dahl seeking only a permit, said executive director Susan Hughes, but could wind up staying to learn about the other resources, classes and volunteer opportunities that it offers.

“We’ve got these kids that come in and they may be graffiti artists, they may have been in trouble, but now they’re doing murals,” Hughes said.

If the permit system does have a deterrent effect, Arts Council board member Pat Roseland said that might not necessarily be a bad thing — especially if it wards off vandals. Roseland, a member of the city Historic Preservation Commission, said the alley needs to be managed to some extent partly to protect its buildings, all of which are located in the downtown historic district.

Smith acknowledged that bad actors have been a problem in the past, some of whom scaled buildings and telephone poles to spray graffiti. But he's betting that by promoting greater community involvement in the alley, a sense of respect can be restored to it that will better keep it free of mischief.

To foster that sense of community, Smith said he plans on working more closely with the owners of the businesses whose back walls comprise the alley. He also plans on organizing more events like Wednesday's.

In October, Smith said he plans to bring in several well-known street artists from Colorado, North Dakota and Minnesota who will leave marks of their own on the alleyway.

"That’s where I’m trying to move with every little project, with every little thing that we’re doing," he said.

— Contact Matthew Guerry at matthew.guerry@rapidcityjournal.com

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