The Color Park in Pittsburgh, which allows anyone to paint on its walls, blocks and trail, was painted over by volunteers from Friends of the Riverfront, a non-profit group. The group called the move a “refresh” and said it was intended to curtail the spread of the artwork beyond the park’s boundaries and to clean up some of the language used. However, street artists responded angrily, both on social media and in person, with some calling Friends of the Riverfront “idiots”. The park is owned by the City of Pittsburgh and the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Artist Baron Batch led a group that repainted the park.
Color Park, located on the South Side of Pittsburgh, has become a battleground for competing visions of street art. Created in 2017 by artist Baron Batch and nonprofit group Friends of the Riverfront, the park has welcomed anyone to paint on its walls, barriers, and even the asphalt trail. However, on Tuesday evening, a crew of Friends of the Riverfront volunteers painted over six years of accumulated artwork with white primer.
The “refresh,” as the group called it, was originally scheduled for late April but was postponed due to rain. Friends of the Riverfront executive director Kelsey Ripper explained that the paint-over was meant to help curtail the spread of the artwork, which had gone beyond the park’s original bounds and was even found on nearby buildings and trees. Another goal was to clean up the language in some of the artwork, which had been the subject of complaints.
However, street artists were not pleased with the move and began voicing their displeasure on social media and in person. Surfaces that had been painted stark white just hours before were now covered in messages like “Friends of the Riverfront Are Idiots” and “You painted over dead artist work. Be ashamed.”
Wizo, an artist who has painted at Color Park, expressed his frustration, stating, “I thought it was absolute bulls—t. Nobody asked for that.” Cam Schmidt, another artist who has contributed to the park, also criticized the move, saying, “It rubbed me the wrong way, and I think it was a little not the best optics.”
However, Color Park is owned by the City of Pittsburgh and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and Friends of the Riverfront had the authority to paint over the artwork. On Thursday night, Batch joined about 40 volunteers to paint over the primer and some of the tags added in the prior 48 hours. While most worked on the walls and barriers with rollers, a handful of young artists with spray cans did their own thing on the barriers.
Color Park was always meant to be ephemeral and changing constantly, with Batch envisioning it being refreshed every year. While Friends of the Riverfront’s move to paint over the artwork was controversial, it remains to be seen whether the park will continue to welcome street art or if there will be more efforts to curtail it.
When it’s all said and done, the situation at Color Park highlights the tension between the desire to encourage artistic expression and the need to maintain public spaces. While street art can beautify and enliven a community, it can also be seen as vandalism and can offend some people. Finding a balance between these competing interests is a challenge that many cities and communities face.