Western’s nationally recognized outdoor sculpture collection is no stranger to graffiti and university staff are all-too-familiar with the routine of cleaning up the mess.
“People are writing graffiti, mostly with chalk,” Hafthor Yngvason, director of the Western Gallery, said. “But they don’t realize that chalk usually has oil in it.”
The University averages about $1,000 per year to clean the sculpture collection and about $20,000 in campus-wide graffiti damages, Paul Cocke, director of communications and marketing, said in an email.
“It’s our responsibility as caretakers of these works to keep them the way artists envisioned them.”
Hafthor Yngvason, director of the Western Gallery
Removing the chalk isn’t an easy process. Yngvason has to call out the maintenance crew, who then use pressure washers and hot water to get the oil off the artwork, he said.
Vandalism increases depending on if it’s an election year, or if a large national event happens that students on campus don’t agree with, Yngvason said.
Wayne Rocque, the Associated Students vice president for student life, feels there must be a balance between activism and respect for artwork.
“Activism comes in many forms, all I’m asking is for people to understand the plight that artists regularly face,” Rocque said. “And how much work it’s taken for these world renowned artists to actually reach where they have. We have a responsibility as a community to keep our art safe.”
Yngvason says there are two pieces in particular that constantly receive attention from the maintenance crews: Mark di Suvero’s “For Handel” outside the Performing Arts Center and Richard Serra’s “Wright’s Triangle” beside the Western Gallery.
“It’s our responsibility as caretakers of these works to keep them the way artists envisioned them,” Yngvason said.
The worst damage to the art is from people skateboarding on the structures, which inevitably leads to scuffed sides and chipped paint.
“These works of art aren’t here for your entertainment so you can exploit [them],” Rocque said. “These works tell a really rich history.”
Many of the artists created the artworks to represent the Northwest and indigenous peoples. Lloyd Hamrol’s “Log Ramps,” located in front of the chemistry building, was made to show ceremonial architecture and the natural resources of the land.
The sculpture outside the Wade King Student Recreation Center titled “Rainforest” also showcases the natural resources of the Northwest. The water feature sounds like persistent rain, according to the Western Gallery website.
Virginia Wright, a Seattle-based philanthropist, brought much of the art we see daily on campus to Western. She had a goal of placing major sculptures on each university campus in Washington. The collection has been recognized nationally, Yngvason said.
“This collection is Ivy League,” Yngvason said. “It’s just as good as Yale or MIT.”
Cocke advises students to use outlets the university has provided if they wish to have a discussion, debate, or other form of communication with students and staff. He said these include the online Viking Village forum, Facebook, comment boards at the Viking Union, and other venues.
“It is important to realize, in these tight budget times, that adding to the workload of already hard-working Western maintenance staff is both unnecessary and irresponsible,” Cocke said in an email. “That money could be better used to preserve our beautiful campus.”
Students can be subjected to repercussions for defacing or causing damage to university property, according to Cocke. He encourages people to call 911 if they see someone using graffiti on a sculpture or university building.
Illustration by Shannon DeLurio.