Chalking sidewalks isn’t illegal–but painting walls is, and Rebecca Arends has made it her mission to stop it (Inside Ann Arbor, October 2015). Last summer, the massage therapist repainted ten graffiti-coated walls around town and then stenciled on murals of trees, birds, and stars. Arends hoped to refute the accepted theory that painting over graffiti won’t prevent its return.

Apparently, it does. “Just four walls have been tagged,” reports Arends proudly by phone, “and most have remained spotless.” She says in the year before her murals went up, the ten walls collectively were tagged with graffiti forty-nine times. A year later, three have been tagged a total of five times; the rest remain pristine.

She’s not claiming murals are the only deterrent to graffiti. She also watched two other walls that were fully repainted but not stenciled, and they suffered only a single tag. But, she says, “people like naturalistic stencils.”

Some call graffiti outsider art, but Arends sees it as a pathology–one that afflicts mainly well-off young white males. So she’s pleased that even those murals that were tagged were not defaced. “Two were minor side tags on Ali Baba,” she writes. “One tag was a sticker central in [stenciled] leaves, another one tag central in leaves, and the other two tags swirled around the birds and cut through all the trunks but didn’t mark them.

“Nature is sacred and innocent, and even wounded sons of our city know this.”