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The Writing on the Wall: Graffiti Alley

Graffiti: some call it vandalism and some call it art. I call it both. The more I see of it, the more it pulls me in. It makes me take a harder look at life and brings up questions. I like that.

Graffiti Alley in Ann Arbor, located off of East Liberty Street next to The Michigan Theater, wasn’t always laden with colorful graffiti and tags. It wasn’t always this way.

In 1999, Katherine Tombeau Cost painted a mural in this same alley. It took her 5 months to complete “Infinite Possibilities.”

Those possibilities came to an end in July of 2008 when the mural was white washed over by vandals. However, the brick walls became a new canvas that would grow organically as each new artist would leave their mark.

Now, I don’t condone the vandals that white washed the mural. And I don’t, in general, condone graffiti artists that tag on private property. It needs to be in the right place.

But, you know what? I really like what Graffiti Alley has become. I like that it keeps evolving; that every time you visit something is bound to have changed.

I find Graffiti Alley interesting because there is so much of it in such a small area; it’s like a tunnel of tags that envelop you and life is happening inside of it. On my last visit, there was a band doing a photo shoot and a dancer entertaining the passerby’s in the alley.

I love the urban art in the Dequindre Cut for different reasons; it seems to belong there and each piece is a separate work. It reminds you that amongst the greenway you are still in Detroit.

And I have to say, the artistry of the graffiti in the Dequindre Cut is so much better than in Graffiti Alley.

If you don’t think graffiti can ever be thought provoking take a look at Banksy. He’s known worldwide now and has been a household name in the UK for ages.

The following two pictures are the work of Banksy.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

Banksy is known for his stencil graffiti and his works are social commentary. They are also are worth a lot of money.

I don’t know much about graffiti or street art, but I know what I like. And I like it if it’s in the right place. I like it if it makes me think or changes my mood.

Next time you’re in Ann Arbor take a walk through Graffiti Alley and let me know what you think.

Also, check out the Banksy movie, “Exit Through The Gift Shop.” It’s billed as “the world’s first street art disaster movie” and opens at the Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak on Friday, May 7, 2010.

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Reader Comments (9)

I love the graffitti on the Cut and think its gorgeous. In fact, I'm planning to have our engagement pics shot there. Banksy's stuff is very cool!

May 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Richmond

I remember finding quite some time ago...and, as you point out, it's always changing and always interesting. Ann Arbor is such a great place to find little artsy surprises, and the alley art is among my favorite hidden gems.

Did you ever see that A2 alley of ants I blogged about a year or so ago? It's a parade of giant ants crawling along an alley wall near the Maynard St. Parking structure. That one surprised me around midnight the night we were walking back from the public debut of the art museum's expansion...and it was lit well enough to actually score a photo!

May 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDominique

". . . amongst the greenway . . ."

Loverly - - so continental, you still are!

May 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Stamm

Thank you Becks again for pointing out a place I'd never heard of before, and close to where I live! I need a photographer now to take a picture of me there! I'm all about 'different' :)

May 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWatty

Great stuff, I'd never heard of this place before!

Love the dequindre cut, went down there before it got cleaned out and it was so much more real and rugged, crack dens and amazing art everywhere. I'm glad it's being brought to the masses though, it needs to be seen.

Graffiti in the right place??? Is there such a thing? :P

May 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDibble

I love the idea of getting your engagement pictures in the Dequindre Cut!

I do remember your post about the ants on the wall in Ann Arbor. In fact, I think I might have found Graffiti Alley while researching where the ants were! I still haven't found those buggers.

Ha! After seeing your comment, I went to and found that "amongst" is chiefly British. My vocabulary is so mixed now that I don't even realize when I'm using British terms! Although, since I've been back I've found that a lot of British slang is being used by Americans. It kind of bums me out but that's a rant for a different day.

You're most welcome. You should definitely take your camera over to Graffiti Alley. I'm sure you'd get some great shots.

Thanks Matt!
Yes, I think there is such a thing as graffiti in the right place. I don't want to see shops in our downtown areas being tagged but it fits in places like The Cut and Graffiti Alley.

May 5, 2010 | Registered CommenterBecks Davis


Just thought you'd be interested in this QuickTImeVR I did of the alleyway in Ann Arbor. Once the movie downloads, you can navigate through the alley up/down/forward/backward. It's a beautiful place.

June 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPan

Nice site . :)

March 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterreewGreld

I love Detroit city streets so much, even though I no longer live there, Detroit goes with me wherever I roam!

May 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDon

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