Graffiti or Art? Takoma Park Debates Children's Pandemic Paintings on Sidewalk

The city of Takoma Park says the art is "graffiti," while neighbors are divided between "ugly" and "great"

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The city of Takoma Park, Maryland, threatened to place a lien on a resident’s home to pay for cleaning off a sidewalk where children painted murals during the pandemic.

Neighbors have said they are upset that the paintings they have enjoyed for two years may soon be removed.

“It encapsulates what Takoma Park should be about,” one of the artists, Indigo Sharp, said.

Neighborhood children and teens first began painting on the sidewalk when the pandemic started and schools were closed. The murals include images of flowers and planets, and hopscotch.

“When it first went up in the beginning of the pandemic, when all of the playgrounds were shut down, it was great," neighbor Henry Mesias said.

Some of the paintings have washed away, and new ones have been added.

Susan Comfort, whose home’s sidewalk was painted, posted about the paintings on social media a few months ago. Her post started a social media debate.

Online discussions sometimes became mean-spirited, neighbors said.

“Children’s art was being called messy and ugly,” neighbor Jacqueline Moore said.  

Neighbors who objected to the paintings pointed out that city code prohibits graffiti in public spaces and that those who had painted the sidewalks didn’t have a permit. Then someone filed a complaint with the city and Comfort received a notice of violation ordering her to remove it.

“No, I’m not removing my neighbors' art,” Comfort said.

Comfort tried to get an exemption from the city for the art but was denied. She received a second notice last week threatening to place a lien on her home for the cost of removal of the paint.

News4 asked Takoma Park officials why Comfort was the only person cited in the violation, given that the graffiti extends in front of at least three homes on two blocks, but they did not address the question.

In a statement Wednesday, Takoma Park spokeswoman Donna Wright said the city cannot discuss active cases. She said city code only permits removable chalk and water-soluble markings in children’s activities or city-approved public art projects.

“In general, any non-soluble painting or marking on public property is a violation of the City code and should be removed,” she said.

Comfort and her neighbors said they want the city to create a process for creating public art.

“There’s a lot of education going on already on the sidewalk, but the civics lesson is not something we had anticipated,” Comfort said.

Takoma Park officials said the work order to remove the paintings is being processed, but did not give a specific date.

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