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Graffiti calls for cleanup

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Graffiti under a bridge near Foster-Arend Park, in Rochester, shows an artistic flair.

Like unwanted pounds, this goes on easy and comes off hard.

It's graffiti, spray-painted at parks and plastered on benches. Cleanup costs the city of Rochester about $15,000 per year.

"Yes, graffiti is a problem for us," said Michael Schaber, assistant parks and forestry operations supervisor with the city Park and Recreation Department, which spends $7,000 to $10,000 per year on graffiti removal.

"One instance will range from $75 to $500, depending on if it can be painted over or if it needs to be sandblasted," Schaber said.

City Traffic Engineer George Calebaugh said his department spends between $5,000 and 6,000 per year on graffiti.

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"Most of the graffiti we see are near bridge structures or tunnels," he said.

Meanwhile, Rochester public schools have seen a decrease in graffiti in recent years, district spokeswoman Heather Nessler said.

Graffiti falls into three main categories, said Darrel Hildebrant, advanced crime prevention specialist with the Rochester Police Department.

Categories include:

• Tagging: artsy, balloon-style letters with the tagger's "signature."

• Gang-related: includes gang symbols or related letters and numbers.

• Vandalism: scribbles, profanity, nasty gestures.

"We want citizens to report any and all graffiti," Hildebrant said.

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The police store photos of graffiti and attempt to match separate cases. That way, "we can find reimbursement for the owner," Hildebrant said.

But when does graffiti become art? Rochester artist Bobby Marines got his start that way.

"My first public pieces were as a young teenager," he said, "spraying graffiti on trains and buildings, sometimes abandoned, sometimes not."

Marines said he believes more can be done than simply report and punish graffiti artists — they could be redirected to legitimate art pursuits.

"First, make them realize that it's OK to expressthemselves productively using the same medium," he said. "They can still be expressive and not have to sacrifice what form they use. This would also be an opportunity to introduce new forms of creative expression to them."

Talk about a work of art — turning the vandals themselves into artists.

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