Lexington cracks down on graffiti

Graffiti lined a stairway between the High Street YMCA and East Vine Street. City officials said six people are responsible for most of the graffiti in Lexington.
Graffiti lined a stairway between the High Street YMCA and East Vine Street. City officials said six people are responsible for most of the graffiti in Lexington.

Lisa Johnson is as passionate as anyone about stopping graffiti.

Johnson, a Lexington Parks and Recreation board member who lives near Woodland Park, said the graffiti got so bad there that people were scared to go to the park.

"One morning I got up and said, 'I'm done,' " she said. "I got my tennis shoes on and walked for 12 hours that day going through the whole town, putting signs up asking if anyone knew who's been doing graffiti."

Johnson's efforts apparently were not in vain.

On Monday, Mayor Jim Gray, flanked by police Chief Ronnie Bastin and the city's "graffiti task force," held a news conference at Woodland Park and announced in a release that 10 arrests had been made in an effort to crack down on the amount of graffiti in Lexington, which has caused more than $30,000 worth of damage to public and private property.

Gray and the graffiti task force said they narrowed it down to six people who they suspect were responsible for most of the graffiti in Lexington.

Gray acknowledged that the work can be an art form. But he said once it starts appearing without authorization of property owners, it stops being art and becomes a problem, and an expensive one at that.

Officer Ricky Lynn said the suspects ranged from 21 to 40 years old, and they all seemed to know each other in some capacity.

Lynn said all of the offenders who were caught are in the court system. Some are doing community service to reduce their charges.

Many of the areas affected by graffiti have been repainted or are about to be repainted by inmates under the supervision of the Fayette County sheriff's office.

Lynn said the task force went to Louisville to learn from graffiti artists about the art of graffiti.

He said they appreciate it as an art form and want to give graffiti artists an outlet to show their work.

Lynn said he thinks the Downtown Lexington Corporation could team up with LexArts eventually to allow graffiti artists to paint traffic boxes and drains around the city.

He said some businesses — the YMCA building on Vine Street, for example — have even started to adopt graffiti.

"I think that's coming more into the mainstream," he said. "I think you'll see places like LexArts embrace this and carry it farther."

Monday provided more vindication for Johnson.

The park, which she says is her "baby," had become a hotbed for graffiti and was rather "unhealthy" looking, she said.

Johnson was so relentless in her pursuit to stop graffiti that the artists started to take notice of her.

"Up at Maxwell Elementary, they wrote 'Lisa Johnson did this,' " she said. "Then one of them wrote up on Maxwell (Avenue), 'Lisa Johnson, keep trying.' "

Since taking a stance against graffiti, Johnson said she has paid about $2,500 in reward money to people who provided her with information. She said every dollar she has spent was worth it.

Gray acknowledged that graffiti might not ever go away, but he also said it can't be ignored, either.

"Cleaning up the graffiti across ... our town and our parks means taking care of our own — preserving its beauty," he said. "That's what makes Lexington special."