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Flaneur – Freak Alley

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Back in February 2015, my family and I took a road trip to Boise, Idaho.  (It was just somewhere we’d never been before and we really loved it – I’m hoping to go back soon, especially for the reason I’m about to talk about!)

During that trip, as we walked around “downtown” Boise, I spotted some colorful, wild graffiti on the corner of the brick wall of a building. When I walk closer to see it, I was delighted to find that this brick wall was part of an alley that was a few blocks long and which was FULL of wonderful murals and public art. We visited this alley, which I came to find was named Freak Alley, several times during our few days’ visit. It came to be the topic of a research paper a couple of years later.

In my research and googling, I found that this alley had come to life when the “founder”, Colby Akers, had been drinking one night and paused to doodle on the back door of one of the businesses facing the alley, Moon’s Kitchen, in December 2002. (The alley was home to the trash bins and back entrances of several buildings.) When the owners heard him out there, they saw what he was doing and not only did not ask him to stop, but asked him to continue and to sign it.

From there, it became a local sensation, growing into a public event where artists applied to add their mark to all the walls in the alley in addition to the surround walls of the one parking lot which opened up into the alley. The alley is repainted every two years, during an event that lasts several days and in which the whole town celebrates. (This is why we’d like to go back – I’d love to go for the re-painting, but also just to see the new work!)

This is a departure from my main theme, however, it still ties in to ideas of power over urban spaces or any space, for that matter. There’s an interesting connection between this Freak Alley in Boise and Salvation Mountain in the southern California desert.

Much like I questioned in my post about Salvation Mountain and Slab City, which were also created by white men, how would Freak Alley have been received if it had been the work of an African American, a woman, a woman wearing a Hijab, an immigrant…? Or could we even think about “how it would have been received” because what would the odds have been of Freak Alley happening if someone had opened their business’s door to find one of these people as the original doodler? I love the art of Freak Alley and the concept. It is amazing and I know that there are artists chosen and included from all walks of life each time it is repainted. I know absolutely nothing about the owners of Moon’s Kitchen. This is not to say that I assume they are racist, this is only to raise these questions. This is to say that white, “western” men are able to do things that others are not. The work, the creations of white, “western” men is received differently. Boise is a smaller urban space with a distinctly artistic, “going against the grain”, open-minded vibe. I suspect Freak Alley *would* still exist in this latter scenario. But what about in other cities? Again, these are things to consider.

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