Graffiti alley comes at you sort of wonderfully, like a something-around-the-bend actually worth anticipating. You’re walking down Howard toward North Ave, past the parking lots and weirdly high volume of car shops, and then you see her, about 12-feet off the ground. An image of a Muslim woman with a bandolier and a gun is pasted at the alley’s entrance like a sentinel.
On the opposite wall, a little higher up, “NO RULES” is scrawled in chunky beige font. That’s a decent summary of Graffiti alley, the space behind the Load of Fun building on the corner of Howard and West North.
After a lot of wrestling with city officials, Sherwin Mark, the guy who owns the Load of Fun, was able to convince them to legalize graffiti in the block of alley. As long as it’s not gang-related, racist, or a phallus, it can go up.
There’s always someone throwing up a new tag or mural, so the artwork in the alley is never static. You can go one month and come back to a whole new space.
Graffiti was going up before Mark got everything approved. But even though the community seemed to like what was going on, one day he and his co-worker Karly Fae Hansen went into the alley to find it painted over with white. They called it “heartbreak alley” for a while, but since then they’ve hammered out an agreement with the city and the walls are vibrant again.