Graffiti bridge: Spray-can artists encourage creativity in York City neighborhood
Jeremiah Fontan had expected a beautiful day on what turned out to be a particularly chilly, bitter Thursday morning,
No matter. Tying a black bandana around his face, the York City native popped the cap off a can of spray paint and went to work on his latest project.
Emphasizing salt-and-pepper hair, a toothy grin and an iconic red sweater, Fontan finished a portrait of the world's most famous neighbor: Mr. Rogers.
"He's a positive visual, and I believe the people in this neighborhood deserve nice things to look at," Fontan said. "If they have nice things to look at, they'll be prone to taking care of those things."
Fontan was among dozens of graffiti artists who gather at the Penn Street Art Bridge to express their creativity and encourage others to do the same.
The ongoing art project was started in 2017 as one of the few legally sanctioned areas graffiti artists are allowed to work in York City. Anybody can paint whenever they choose, without prior permission or risk of arrest.
Eleanor Justice, who launched the project, said the artists contribute their own supplies — which, she noted, can get pricey, as a single can of spray paint can cost anywhere from $12 to $20.
"When artists are coming here and doing their stuff, they're literally contributing significant resources to the community on their own dime," Justice said. "What they're doing is incredibly generous."
While anybody with the urge to be creative is welcome at the art bridge, Fontan and his posse of graffiti artists, self-titled the York Bomb Squad, frequent and maintain the site.
For Halloween, York Bomb Squad member Jaysin Jefferson completed a Beetlejuice-inspired mural that took more than 41 hours to complete.
Though Jefferson's latest mural has been up for the public to view for more than three weeks, he said some people visit the site to cause destruction.
"I've done things up here, and it doesn't last 24 hours," Jefferson said. "It's just not feasible to spend my time and my resources when I can't even get a decent picture if I do something at night and it's gone the next day because someone scribbled over it — it doesn't feel good."
To his pleasant surprise, however, his Beetlejuice mural is still clean, with many residents visiting the bridge to pose for a photo in the sandworm's mouth.
Prior to the creation of the Penn Street Art Bridge, people often vandalized the bridge — including gangs trying to mark their territory, Jefferson said.
Since the bridge was transformed, however, Jefferson said he and the York Bomb Squad try to create positive art to inspire and motivate others.
"This is forward-thinking for the community to allow something like this in the area," Jefferson said. "To allow artists to express themselves."
— Reach Tina Locurto at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.