Advertising or Art? Ministry Fights for Graffiti

HOLLAND, Mich. (June 5, 2014) – Escape Ministries is a place along the lakeshore where gang members and at-risk youth can leave behind the street life for education, athletics and self-discovery.

But now the group is feeling pressure over graffiti on the building.

“Just recently, I received a letter from the city because someone complained about the graffiti that’s on the wall and didn’t like it and we had 5 days to get it down,” said Pastor Willie Watt, executive director of Escape Ministries.

Whether you call it a mural, a sign or simply graffiti, the piece was put there as a way to say ‘thank you’ to Escape Ministries.

“The depiction of it shows that bars and the death behind the bars, talking about how kids are at risk,” Watt said. “And showing them it’s a way to escape the reality and bust of the situation they are in with what we do here.”

But, someone in the community is getting the wrong message.

Greg Robinson, Holland’s assistant city manager, told FOX 17 whenever the city gets a complaint,  they respond and investigate.

What’s complicating the matter is that because the graffiti includes the word ‘escape,’ the name of the group, it falls under the city’s sign ordinance.

“Because it is a sign, it’s larger than what we allow on our sign ordinance,” Robinson said. “So, we need to resolve that somehow.

Robinson says they’ll determine the best way forward.

“Is it a matter of going to our zoning board of appeals and asking for a variance,” Robinson said. “Or is it a matter where we amend our ordinance language anyway to accommodate more of these types of artwork?”

Pastor Watt says he will continue the fight to keep the work on the wall.

“Right now, the city is doing a wonderful job of working with us to find out what we can do to make sure that this young man’s art stays up and be looked at as legitimate art,” Watt said.

For now, the issue remains undecided as Escape Ministries and the City of Holland work together to come to a resolution.

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