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Community repaints public art following vandalism

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Posted on: August 10, 2023

BY FREDDY WOLFE

Members of the Hyattsville community came together on July 22 to restore and enhance the asphalt art at the intersection of Jefferson Street and 40th Avenue following its June vandalization. 

On June 29, at about 5:50 p.m., Hyattsville police officers responded to a report that an individual was seen spray-painting the recently completed street art in the roadway and on the sidewalk.

Witnesses told the officers they observed a man fleeing the scene in a dark blue Toyota Camry, which was later identified as carrying a falsified tag.

Officers continued to patrol the area and observed the suspect return at 10 p.m. and begin to spray-paint the art again. Officers stopped the suspect and identified him as Kenny Antonio Guevara. While talking with officers, Guevara stated that he spray-painted over the art because he thought it represented gay pride. 

Guevara was arrested and charged with malicious destruction of property and a hate crime. 

“We are very disappointed to see this new amenity defaced by someone motivated by hate,” Hyattsville Mayor Robert Croslin said in a press release. “I want to reassure the community that we will not tolerate acts of hate in the City of Hyattsville and we are working to restore the artwork as quickly as possible.” The spray paint was removed by the city shortly after the incident.

The art piece, named “Quilted Crossing,” was installed less than a week before the vandalism. The piece was not originally designed with the pride flag in mind, however.

“One of the neighbors brought it to our attention that there’s a really strong fiber arts community in Hyattsville,” said Graham Coreil-Allen, the artist behind “Quilted Crossing” and the founder of Graham Projects, a Baltimore-based design-build agency that creates public art pieces aimed at pedestrian play and safety. 

Photo credit: Freddy Wolfe

Coreil-Allen said the main intent of the artwork was for traffic calming.

Traffic calming is a system of design and management strategies that aim to balance traffic on streets with other uses. “When we introduce these really bright colors, … it really jumps out visually, so that car drivers are a little more aware,” said Coreil-Allen. “This art helps to say, ‘This is a place, not just a space.’”

Some of the other traffic calming methods that the city has used in the area are retrofitted stop signs with blinking lights, speed bumps, bicycle markers and curb extensions (curb extensions visually and physically narrow the roadway, creating safer and shorter crossings for pedestrians).

The city’s Community Paint Day at the Community Quilt Street Art event on July 22 invited Hyattsville residents to join the artist in restoring and expanding the art piece. Dozens of neighbors and community members painted the sidewalk alongside artists from Graham Projects. “We’re happy that when we advertised this event, the community really came out, and all of the spots that we had were filled,” said Taylor Robey, a city public works employee. 

“The community was upset, you know — it kind of struck our ideals of diversity and inclusion, and that it happened during gay Pride month was particularly offensive to many,” said City Councilmember Danny Schaible (Ward 2) at the community repainting day. “I heard from many constituents; our local listserv was lit up on this topic. And there was just a desire by the community to do something to kind of reclaim the space.”

Coreil-Allen emphasized how integral pride culture is to his practice, noting that several of his team members were a part of the LGBTQ community. “When this was interpreted as an explicit pride flag and then attacked as such, that was disheartening,” he said, “but it was very uplifting to see the community’s positive response and coming together today to help extend that artwork even further out.”

 

Freddy Wolfe is an intern with the Life & Times.

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