Last January, while Chris Ruston was enjoying breakfast at the Homeport Restaurant and Lounge he noticed the words “QuÈ tal travesura” painted brazenly on the Home Feed and Grocery store building across the street. The phrase is Spanish for “what’s up mischief?” Ruston was so offended by the tagging that he posted a photo of it on Facebook.
There was a huge reaction from the public, and within three days 10 volunteers showed up to remove the graffiti as well as clean the Home bridge and clean up garbage dumped at Jackson Lake. Many people brought their children to help pitch in. This became what is now known as Project Clean Sweep of Key Peninsula, an organization to combat graffiti in the region.
“I am extremely grateful for each and every volunteer who donated their time,” Ruston said. “It shows great commitment on their parts in helping to keep our community clean. I know with proper planning, I believe that even more people will volunteer on the next cleanup project.
Ruston said he is particularly disturbed that the graffiti would appear in the wooded region of the Key Peninsula.
“In a city, it’s part of the landscape. Out here, it’s a real eyesore,” he said.
Ruston believes that groups of all ages lacking structure and entertainment may turn to this form of expression. “It is obvious the person responsible for this is in need of a new hobby or canvas,” Ruston said. “Maybe if people got involved with volunteer projects such as this one, they would have something to do.”
Stephanie Stephens, who is a co-administrator for the Project Clean Sweep Facebook page, arranged for fliers to be posted locally to garner support for the cleanup.
She was inspired by the lively debate that took place on the online platform, and believes the graffiti artwork all comes from one group.
“They need to find a better use for their time,” Stephens said. “If kids are interested in art, it should be something they pursue in college, not painting it in public places,” Stephens said.
Gary Meyers, who manages Capitol Lumber in Key Center, volunteered to provide brushes and other equipment to Project Clean Sweep after he heard about the tagging incident from an employee. Meyers champions the public’s response to help maintain the wholesomeness of the community and plans to keep tabs on his paint sales. So far, none of the colors used in the Home tagging are sold at Capitol lumber, according to Meyers.
Ruston values a proactive approach to combating graffiti. He says it’s important to have an immediate reaction like Project Clean Sweep to prevent the taggers from basking in self-glorification. Ruston believes that forming online communities can be the best way to start and organize a cleanup.
The second thing that Ruston recommends is contacting Citizens Against Crime at kpcitizensagainstcrime.organd local law enforcement. These groups can monitor activity and spot any trends in paint sales that may seem suspicious.
“I believe the more you involve the community in positive projects such as Project Clean Sweep, you will be pleasantly surprised how many people will be willing to participate,” Ruston said. “We can come together and take pride in our community with volunteer projects like this. It will also send a positive message to our children and our neighbors.”
Currently, Ruston and Stephens are hosting public meetings at the Key Peninsula Civic Center on the first and third Thursdays of each month to allow citizens to come together and plan ways to strike back at local graffiti.