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A group of students from a Montessori school add their own artwork to an exterior wall of the Elkhart Art League at High Dive Park Tuesday. (Truth Photo by Dan Spalding) (AP)

Ellen Ridenour, vice president of the Elkhart Art League, stands outside the building, which has taken on a more colorful appearance after the city decided to allow people to ordain the building with graffiti-styled art. (Truth Photo by Dan Spalding) (AP)

A student from a nearby Montessori school makes an addition to the artwork that graces the exterior walls of the Elkhart Art League at High Dive Park Tuesday. (Truth Photo by Dan Spalding) (AP)

Classmates from a Montessori school add their own artwork to an exterior wall of the Elkhart Art League at High Dive Park Tuesday. (Truth Photo by Dan Spalding) (AP)
Art league embraces graffiti, unique marketing tool
Posted on July 9, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on July 9, 2013 at 6:47 p.m.

ELKHART — If anyone ever had trouble finding or distinguishing the Elkhart Art League building at High Dive Park, they don’t any more.

Just look for the art.

Lots of it.

With the blessing of the Elkhart Parks Department, the art league and city are allowing anyone with an artistic streak to paint — or shall we say graffiti — the exterior of the building.

The program began about a month ago during the Rhapsody In Green festival as a way to spruce up what many believed was a “lost” building that sits back from nearby roads, said Karin Frey, parks superintendent

“It’s a living canvas,” Frey said.

The rules for the program are about as structured as graffiti itself, but there are a few limits.

There are no set hours and anyone can participate.

But gang-related graffiti and other offensive stuff, including names and curse words, are prohibited, said Ellen Ridenour, vice president of the art league.

Officials want to limit the graffiti to the exterior walls and don’t want any on the roof area, even though the upper parts of the building have been marred.

Ridenour said she had her doubts at first about how it would turn out, but after a month, she finds it to be as successful as it is colorful.

The new policy, though, did initially hit a rough patch.

Despite their best efforts to inform authorities about the program, Ridenour said police received numerous reports of vandals on the property during the first week.

“I was really worried at first. I thought, ‘What have I done?’ ” Ridenour said.

“After that first week, everything was better,” she said.

The program has become a unique marketing tool for the art league, which has been around for nearly 90 years.

“Before, nobody knew what the building was. They thought it was a deserted building,” Ridenour said. “And all of the sudden, people started asking, ‘What’s the building, anyway?’ And we said, ‘It’s the art league,’ and they said, ‘Oh, cool.’ ”

Optimistically, officials thought that giving graffiti artists a venue for their work would be a good way to keep it from happening on other structures.

“Some of that artwork is really fantastic,” Frey said.

Young people, Ridenour said, love it.

“They couldn’t believe they got permission to do it,” she said.

Every day, she said, there’s something new that surfaces.

The art has already been covered up with fresh work several times, Ridenour said.

On Tuesday, a group of young Montessori students took their turn, using felt pens.

Michael Sherwood, 18, works with the city through a summer work program via Work One. He is responsible for, among other things, removing anything inappropriate.

Sherwood said he’s only found a few instances that needed to be covered up.

“It’s actually pretty amazing. I wish more buildings could be like this,” Sherwood said.