Legal graffiti: Youth program makes mark on South Shore |

Legal graffiti: Youth program makes mark on South Shore

Adam Jensen
Nevada Appeal News Service

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – A can of spray paint, the cover of darkness and a disregard for the law are often the main ingredients for a piece of graffiti.

But the painting style came out of the shadows on Thursday, as a graffiti removal and mural program in South Lake Tahoe made its most visible mark yet.

A small group of teenagers spent more than two hours turning the traffic light control box at the corner of Lake Tahoe Boulevard and Wildwood Avenue from a strictly utilitarian affair into a mural depicting profiles of climbers making their way up a rock face.

The project was part of a partnership between the South Lake Tahoe Police Department, the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce, South Tahoe Refuse Company, Lake Tahoe Boys and Girls Club, Tahoe Art League and Sphere of Influence youth group.

The program is designed to remove or cover existing graffiti and give youth a legal venue to express themselves.

Matt Kauffmann, a youth mentor involved in the program, drew a distinction between detailed “graffiti” pieces and the “tagging” typified by the scribbling of pseudonyms on public and private property, while overseeing the project on Thursday.

“I think the creativity behind it determines whether it is destructive or positive,” Kauffmann said.

The group received hoots or honks of approval from passing cars on Thursday and one woman, retired school teacher Carol Harrington, stopped by to shake the spray paint splattered hands of the artists.

“I’m so impressed,” Harrington said. “I’m going to enjoy this for years.”

Participants in the graffiti program have already painted murals on Dumpsters on Larch Avenue, Aspen Avenue, Tamarack Avenue and Glenwood Way, but Thursday’s work was the first of several pieces planned for select traffic light control boxes around the South Shore.

Designs for the light boxes require approval from representative agencies and will depict local scenes or recreational activities, said Lt. David Stevenson said in a statement last month.

The group would like to be able to create pieces of graffiti closer to the style’s origins and would ultimately like to find a property owner willing to donate a wall as a space where teenagers would be free to paint, Kauffmann said.

Participants in the graffiti program would police the wall, covering up any gang insignias painted there, Kauffmann added.