Art

Tag, You're It

Public art takes to the streets

Erin Swanson
Posted
Avenue Concept founder Yarrow Thorne stands in front of a recently commissioned wall at the Roots Cafe downtown Photo by Jonathan Beller

In cities around the globe – Barcelona, Berlin and Sao Paulo to name a few – graffiti is a celebrated art form. Infamous street artists such as Italy’s Blu and Brazil’s Nunca combine spray paint and larger-than-life ideas to transform ordinary buildings to extraordinary cityscapes. The movement continues to spread through Providence, thanks in part to local artist Yarrow Thorne. The RISD grad’s newest venture, The Avenue Concept, is the culmination of lots of listening and several years of work. Thorne discovered that business owners and City workers shared similar frustrations: buildings were getting tagged repeatedly, costing them time and money to clean. Luckily, Thorne knew several skilled artists who were looking for paid work.

The owner of the newly-rebranded Yarrow’s Cans has created a solution, modeled upon frameworks that have proven successful in other areas. “There are many examples of cities that took a negative product and turned it into a large scale public experience that saves the City money, creates jobs, mentors youth, solves reoccurring vandalism and provides an avenue for local artists to work,” Thorne says. Over the past four years he has facilitated the painting of murals on six walls throughout the city. “The mural at El Rancho Grande was my first public project,” Thorne explains. “The restaurant was getting tagged weekly.” Thorne worked with artists Ricki Vespia and Etipsone to come up with a creative solution. The end result was a 20-foot-tall mural. “The building was never tagged again,” Thorne says.

The most recent, a revolving wall at the Roots CafeĢ, was completed in early August. Thorne funded the project himself, reimbursing the artists for their time and materials. In order for this program to continue, however, Thorne needs the support of outsiders. “I’m currently raising funding to support The Avenue Concept,” he says.

Thorne doesn’t limit his reach to walls alone. He has worked to reopen the skate park that was started by pro-skater Donny Barley, owner of the much-missed Fountain of Youth skate shop. A June demo saw over 100 kids and young adults turn out to break in the graffiti-covered ramps. With the City’s support and the help of sponsors, the skate park is now hosting workshops involving skateboarding, music and street art in its temporary location at the Bank of America Skating Rink. Skate pro Darren Harper hosted the first free skate camp on August 16, aimed to educate urban youth about being active and staying healthy. About 150 kids partici- pated as a DJ spun tunes and the grafitti legend Wizart (aka Spoke) spray painted an installation wall. “Just wait until we get a budget,” Thorne says, “it’s going to be really amazing.”

Thorne’s also been working with the Environmental Justice League of RI (EJRI) in attempt to convert a 30-foot bus into a youth-inspired food truck to educate kids from at-risk communities about organic, healthy food. He plans to have the EJRI food bus painted by an artist with help of some children.

On September 29 at Kennedy Plaza, amid all the FirstWorks festivities, Thorne will be building a 150-foot wall in the middle of the plaza’s trolley lane, as part of a contract he has with the City. Forty some-odd artists will paint the wall while the public looks on. “[This venture] will promote the relationship that is building between City Hall and The Avenue Concept,” he says. “I want to show the public the many forms of art that exist and how it can make a positive impact in a community.”