LETTER: ‘Next Time You Need a Wall Decorated, Go Hire a Bunch of Graffiti Artists’

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The new Mural, painted on the side of the Dollar Tree Store on 4th Ave SW, has been completed, for a cost of $12,000. What do YOU think of it? Please take our Poll, or leave a Comment below (after reading this Reader’s Letter of course…). Click image to see larger version. Photo by Scott Schaefer.

Dear Editor –

The new artwork (“The Burien Mural”) on the side of the Dollar Tree facing City Hall is absolutely perfect, both for today’s Burien and for those who signed off on the project. It is very nicely rendered . . . and it says nothing whatever, which means that no one can possibly take offense. Done to a smaller scale it would make fine wallpaper in a dentist’s office.

The Mural is therefore a good aesthetic fit with the business center that went in just up 4th Avenue a couple of years ago. You know the one, with each store front finished in a different style from the adjoining ones, to mimic actual separate stores that could have been built in different eras. It is transparently a fake, the sort of cheap phoniness excoriated by the late American cultural scourge, Paul Fussell (see his “Class”, c.1982).

Who chooses this insipid glop? Evidently, a group of middle-class folk who imagine they have at least upper-middle tastes and aspire to be fully Upper. They are hoping they can turn Burien into something Eastside, say Kirkland, as if that were in some way desirable. They were made uncomfortable by the gales of laughter that greeted the UN-approved bits of statuary put up in the vacant lot south of Staples several years ago featuring a naked bronze lady squatting quite possibly to do her business in full view. Since the lady and her accompanying amusements were removed, the arbiters of Burien art and architecture are going to play it very safe. Meanwhile, if in despair one wishes to see public art that doesn’t induce nausea, one can look around Fremont, or even parts of White Center.

Burien, next time you need a wall decorated, go hire a bunch of graffiti artists and gangstas. They will come a lot cheaper than the $20,000 that The Mural reportedly cost.

– SwampCity Smitty

EDITOR’S NOTE: This letter has inspired us to take the pulse of our Readers about this new Mural – please take our Poll, or leave a Comment Below:

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62 Responses to “LETTER: ‘Next Time You Need a Wall Decorated, Go Hire a Bunch of Graffiti Artists’”
  1. Brock A D says:

    I have to say, though the letter was snarky, judgmental and somewhat mean, I fully agree with the assessment. It is a rather washed-out and very safe piece of art…. And the cost was ridiculous. Huge waste of our city dollars. And I agree- making a Graph wall would have been a much better usage of the space. Plus, many good graph artists would have jumped at the chance to colab on a big wall like that and used their own supplies. It would have been better and it would have been free to the city. But, yet again, our policy makers are trying too hard to make Burien something they think they want, instead of celebrating the diverse and wonderful town we actually are.

  2. Elise says:

    Wow. I’m sorry that the author of that letter has such a strong reaction to our new mural so soon after the Extremely hard working artist flew home.
    “It is very nicely rendered . . . and it says nothing whatever, which means that no one can possibly take offense.” – Yes, it is very nicely done. It was created with great attention to detail, in every square foot of space, and with a vision for the image as a whole. As for the assumption that it says nothing whatsoever… true, there aren’t words, but it says many things. (I sort of take offense to the comment that the mural says nothing, and never am the sort of person to admit that on the internet.)

    Please, everyone, do go spent a litle time noticing the interconnectedness of the mural as you visit the library, wait for the bus, walk to school… The geometric designs are drawn by local elementary students, the hands belong to a diverse selection of community members, the shells are from our beach, etc… What is says is not explicit, but it says something for everyone.
    (As for the cost, quality paint, tools, scaffold rental, pressure washing, and more cost more than you’d guess!)

    But without thinking about it too hard, I see the mural as something that will change the energy of that central space in Burien.
    Dare to be Uplifted!

  3. Mellow says:

    It’s really disappointing. I’m SO glad they decided to paint an otherwise very ugly wall, but I was hoping for something beautiful. Olympia is full of gorgeous artwork on its downtown buildings; it’s a pleasure to walk through town and enjoy all the murals. This one on the Dollar Tree, however, is just eyebrow-raising. It’s not lovely. Is this really what the city wanted? The next time you want a mural, you should consider hiring an artist from Olympia!

  4. Crystal says:

    I do not have an opinion about the piece itself but I do have a lot of questions (maybe this was already addressed?) I do not understand why we flew an artist in… we have a lot of talent here… there are plenty of art students that could use that money to pay for school or loans. Were the supplies puchased locally? Are we flying someone in to cover the graffiti that will eventually show up?

  5. Kurt Holzmuller says:

    ……”Somebody needs a hug”, Well maybe……………either that or an enema! Ha, I love the new mural and think it’s a colorful addition to Burien and it’s public art.

  6. Ghost of Maplewild says:

    “Art is making something out of nothing, and selling it.”
    ― Frank Zappa

  7. InfoManiac says:

    Folks, there was a public call for art submissions: if more local artists had submitted their proposals, maybe one of them would have been chosen. Remember this? http://www.burienwa.gov/DocumentView.aspx?DID=1939

    A great deal of thought went into the artist selection process. You can’t blame the selection committee if more people with different artist ideas didn’t apply for the opportunity.

    As for whether or not this piece is “lovely”: it’s art. It’s not supposed to be/mean the same thing to everyone, unless it is one of those generic seashore paintings that they hang in hotel rooms. No two people are going to agree on whether or not something is “good” because it is an entirely subjective thing. No two people are going to agree on what a piece means, not even if the artist sat in front of them and described in great detail exactly what they were trying to convey. Heck, take a look at the Mona Lisa: that painting of a woman’s face is hundreds of years old, and people are still fighting about what it actually means.

    I for one and tired of people whining when the city tries to create space for public participation, especially when it is a project that makes the city more interesting and unique. You guys want more/different art? Trying creating some and offering it to the city for free. Try volunteering your time on the weekends to pick up the trash that accumulates quickly on the sides of the road around here. Try working with your neighbors to make your own streets look cleaner and better tended to.

    Try getting in there and getting your hands dirty, instead of sitting on the sidelines complaining that everyone else is doing it wrong.

    • Coverofnight says:

      Let’s see…..waste money on red light cameras or unneeded parking enforcement or annexation efforts that nobody wants…..or spend money on painting murals to brighten this town? I say, “Paint away!”

    • elizabeth2 says:

      Just curious – why do you assume that people on this blog are NOT doing what you are exhorting them to do? I pick up trash on my street, especially when it is mail that someone has stolen from local mailboxes.

      Just because people do not agree with your view on art does not mean they sit on their behinds and do nothing.

    • Nathan says:

      “there was a public call for art submissions”
      I never saw any poster put up on the wall itself. The people run running this thing clearly did not take into account the people that would be looking at it most often.

      • John Poitras says:

        Its typical of the arrogance and hubris of certain members of the council that take as a given whatever THEY personally think is the the way it should be .. Consensus is not a word they are familiar with. It is obscured by the huge wall of hubris that obstructs their vision.

        • Tainted says:

          Honesty was never your strong suit John glad to see youre still at your trash talking.

          • John Poitras says:

            Tainted.. Good name for a troll. Your moniker does not inspire trust and in fact infers the opposite.
            Also you apparently don’t get it that you are being hypocritical. Dishonestly trash talking me as not being honest when you are not even honest enough to post under your real name?
            I eagerly await your HONEST response although I have no doubt you will just remain silent where you can snipe safely from the shadows .. Btw Whats your point?? Or do you even have one related to this topic.

  8. Greeny says:

    To be completely honest about this wall, I think it’s hideous. It makes absolutely no sense, it doesn’t make a complete picture.

    I feel that this wall should have been done with something that reflects Burien a little more rather than just some hands, flowers, and weird lines.

    When the b-town blog stated something was going to be painted on the dollar tree wall, someone had posted that it should be a mural of the trees that used to be there a few years ago in all the different seasons. I feel like that would have been a more classy way to go.

    This mural makes Burien look unorganized. If I was someone coming from out of town and I saw this I would think “what kid of city would paint something this bad on one of their buildings.”


  9. Dena says:

    I think it was a good idea, but I don’t really care for the design.

  10. Tina says:

    The city of Burien had $12,000 in its budget and it spent it on a PAINTING? Given that the city somehow has extra funds to spend on completely unnecessary projects, I don’t want to hear anything going forward about a budget shortage or not having money for actual needed projects.

  11. Shari says:

    This is starting to feel a lot like the Artemis Hotel design/taste/education/social class thing all over again.

  12. InfoManiac says:


    “Just curious – why do you assume that people on this blog are NOT doing what you are exhorting them to do?”

    Because if everyone was, we wouldn’t have the constant trash piles and overgrown yards that we do. If everyone who has commented on this blog today about how much they dislike the mural were actually pitching in to clean up the city, there would be quite a noticeable difference.

  13. Tom Harmon says:

    I am trying to like it, but failing.

  14. I love the mural and applaud the artist, Augustina Droze.

    She succeeded at an insurmountable task. She created a vibrant, thought-provoking, innovative, region-relevant mural where there had been just a blank, white wall. She took on the challenge of creating imagery that could somehow express the variety that is Burien. Imagine the difficulty of that task! And she didn’t resort to time-worn, ho-hum mural concepts that are in every Small Town, U.S.A.

    She included hands of young and old, light and dark; our regional rhododendron foliage and flower; a seedling and mature wood; bike wheels and car wheels; waves, beach shells and house keys. And Ms. Droze added contributions from local school kids as they were studying mathematical patterns.

    Surely, folks, there’s something there that each and every one of you can relate to.

    Augustina has created a very orderly collage, uniting disparate objects in a playful manner. House keys in the center of rhodie flowers? Yes! Look at it from a distance: it’s a bold, cheerful floral wreath.

    Maybe it’s time to stretch one’s thinking about “Art”… And maybe that’s the point.

    By the way, this is from the artist’s statement about her intentions for the mural: “The hands on the left and right sides of the mural represent the water… Three rings or “mandalas” will form the center of the mural which are made of items found in the region- shells, ferns, flowers, tires, keys, etc. the background will be painted with the community pattern drawings. The mural represents our harmony with nature. It emphasizes important connections and the simplicity of life.”

    • Brock A D says:

      Huh. That’s funny, because from most of our viewpoints “she didn’t resort to time-worn, ho-hum mural concepts that are in every Small Town, U.S.A.” is actually EXACTLY what she did. When I think of those type of murals I think of local flora and fauna, and the #1 over-used uninspired art focus- the human hands, especially the combo of old+young. I can’t think of any items that are more over-used and uninspired…

      • Brock A D says:

        Oh, also- the biggest one I’ve seen and that always bothers me, is to tack on some aspect created by school children to pull the heart-strings of the middle class without actually adding value to a piece. When I think of ho-hum middle-town american, “art Murals” those are all the elements that first come to mind, and look- they’re all included.

  15. Eaton B. Verz says:

    It sucks…..especially for 12K. Give it a month and the gangs and taggers will have it representing Burien for about 4 bucks a can. Ace better stock up!

  16. pat says:

    The beauty of art is that it is a rendering of ideas. The artist and sponsors give life to ideas, and invite all people to share thoughts as we view the images. And we may all agree that we have.freedom to disagree and even change our opinion as time goes by. Art opens our minds from what we know to what we don’t yet know.

  17. Rob says:

    First of IMHO, when someone writes a letter to the editor and does so in the guise of anonymity, as “smitty” does it means very little to me. You want me to read your opinion? At least use your first name. And also shame on B-town blog for not (apparently) having an editorial process in place about using anonymity. Even the Big Town Papers and blogs require that. Maybe I am wrong andf your mommy named you SwampCity.

    Now that I got that off my chest, there is never going to be pleasing 100% of the people 100% of the time, so those who don’t like it, deal with it, get more involved next time if you have an idea what something should look like.

  18. 3TPDude says:

    I love it!
    After looking at downtown Burien’s mostly bland buildings for over 50 years, I think this should be the start of a lot more public art around town.

  19. Hotrodgal says:

    Welll…I personally don’t care for it. Up close, the rhododendron flowers are lovely and well rendered. From a distance they become a space-posie. That’s my personal opinion though. I am quite conservative and it would have been nice to see a public vote on the submissions to the project.

    What I absolutely don’t like is the fact that at the same time that this 12,000 dollar piece of work was being painted, a plea from our city manager goes out for a tax increase because of anticipated shortfalls in the cities budget.

    The cities budget for downtown glamour hits ALL of the citizens; not just the downtown shops and shoppers. That $12,000 would have been better spent on maintaining what we already have.

    • TcB says:

      A public vote on art would have gotten us a beige colored wall, like our beige colored “broken jungle gym” instead of the historically inspired Tree and Saw Blade that the uninformed and low effort thinkers have labeled “The Screw”

  20. Joey Martinez says:

    http://burienwa.gov/DocumentView.aspx?DID=1584 (this is the current budget)
    (Copied from link)

    Section 3-18 Art in public places fund (Different from the General fund – my emphasis)

    The Art in Public Places Fund accounts for contributions, donations, commissions on sales of art displayed in public places and 1% of construction contracts for construction or remodeling of government owned public buildings, transit centers and parks. These funds are used for the selection, acquisition, repair, maintenance, and installation or display of original works of visual art.

    Revenues consist of contributions, donations, commissions on sales of art displayed in public places and 1% of qualifying capital improvement project expenditures. Qualifying improvement project expenditures are based on construction contracts awarded plus amendments, funded with City of Burien funds and with grant funds if allowed by the granting agency.

      • Coverofnight says:

        “…Thank you, Joey”……for what? The bulk of that 1% comes from public construction contracts which are funded with YOUR tax money! Once again, he’s trying to make you think that you’re getting something for nothing (typical Democrap distraction technique).

        Those who don’t like it have every right to complain; personally, I like it compared to the blank wall before – but I’d rather have seen the original trees kept along that street instead. Oh well, guess that improvement was “Martinized” for your well-being whether you like it or not.

        And don’t anyone dare call me gutless for staying anonymous……or I’ll send Joey Moretaxes over to your house to spend an entire Saturday going over his annexation fuzzy math!

    • Jay says:

      Capital improvement…

      Port-O-Potties are pretty artistic and have visually striking lines with good colors. Pleople tend to flock to them and even on occasion use them.

      $12k for art, I get it.
      $12k for public toilets only sounds better.

      Go by any public park (w/o toilets) or near the trasit center and you can watch public urination day and night. But, if we had those “artistic toilets”, well… they could enjoy the beauty of the toilet and have a moment of great release, thus feeling the warmth and thoughtfulness of our city for taking care of its people and those that just pass through or sleep under the bushes or the overpass.

      • BurgerMeister says:

        Who would maintain those toilets? $12K worth of maintenance (to say nothing of supervision or security!) doesn’t go far…

  21. Ghost of Maplewild says:

    Makes me wonder whose office in city hall has a view of the wall.

  22. Summar says:

    im no art buff or anything but i agree that graf artists would’ve done a better job 4 much less money, if any. & yes, it will get tagged!

  23. Aaron Easter says:

    Who is Swamp City Smitty and why is he not brave enough to put his name on his comments? Do us a favor and do something productive for the city, we already have enough complainers.

    • John Poitras says:

      And what are you doing Aaron Easter except complaining about the complainers? Seems a little hypocritical don’t ya think?

      • Tainted says:

        Coming from a proven dishonest person that is rich.

        • John Poitras says:

          Proven by who? A poster named TAINTED who makes dishonest snipes without any facts to back up their slander? All you are is a cowardly troll and I suspect a pro-annextaion curs trying to get their digs in because they have nothing real to respond with.

  24. With no apparent irony, two posters named “M-on-a-bike” (underlined!) and “Pat” (Mommy didn’t give you a last name?) are objecting to MY remaining anonymous. Too funny! Thanks, guys!

    Why would you need my name? I don’t need yours. The quality of the arguements is what is of interest here. My opinions, particularly on Art, are subject to revision, and all I need is your better opinion, not your name. This applies to weightier matters, such as political issues; I’m a pragmatist, and don’t care if you are Left or Right of me as long as you have a good idea. But since your panties are in a bunch because you don’t have my name (and is it supposed to be coincidence that you didn’t like my opinions?), I’m curious what you’d do if you had it. Would you also need my age, gender, race, phone, email, and street address so you can either put me on a public art blacklist, or show up at the house to continue argueing about the stupid Mural?

    Certainly I “stand behind my opinion”. The Mural is Velveeta on white bread, safely pasturized and homogenized, a simulated-food-product so bland that mice won’t touch it, but which much of the American middle class prefers and will even serve to guests, which is the shameful thing.

    Having very recently lost both Paul Fussell and Andy Rooney, and with H. L. Mencken and Lucius Beebe long gone, whom do we have to stand against the politically-correct democratic relativists striving to convince us that all art and literature and all cultural and social arrangements equally have merit and deserve respect?

    When it is earnestly explained to us that some design elements of the mural came from drawings by schoolkids, with the implied assertion that (if we aren’t so churlish as to dislike kids) we therefore have to admire The Mural, someone has to stand and yell, “Bull!!”

    When city leaders decide that Burien should become the local capital of preciousness by tearing up the blacktopped streets at great expense to lay crosswalks of brick (treacherously slippery when it rains), shouldn’t local small businessmen who have to pay for the project tell the City leader where they can shove all the bricks?

    When an architect designs a large structure to be erected in the middle of town, and instead of esposing his lack of styling talent takes the cheapo solution of breaking up the exterior into several faces, each of which is to be painted in its own pastel color (brick red!, beige!, dark tan!, orange!!), isn’t it almost an obligation of any citizen of discrimination to denounce it as crap?

    When I typed out my original screed it was intended as no more than an answer to an existing thread here, and not as a front page op-ed piece. You may be reassured, “M-on-a-bike” and “Pat”, that my new friend, editor Scott Schaeffer, already does have a real-names policy for featured letters. When he told me he wanted to run my letter up front to stir up some reaction, he said it would have to be signed. I countered that one’s personal privacy is always under threat in the computer age, and that seeing my opinions on Burien’s art scene on a front page was hardly worth being exposed to internet trolls or having my neighbors chewing me out. When I asked Scott what we could do he held out his palm, which I proceeded to cross with green money until he smiled. I got the distinct impression that he is open to similar arrangements with any of you . . . .

  25. wheels says:

    Whether you like this mural or not, it will look horrible before long. I predict graffiti before winter. It also has a pipe running through it. That pipe is going to rust, leak, or fall off. Once that happens, it’s really going to look crappy. The fifty year old building was only designed to last thirty years at the most. Hopefully, the mural will go away sooner rather than later.

  26. Brad T. says:

    Love love love the Idea of the murals! I think they are a great way to make the city stand out good job. Not my ideah of great work but as someone said above art is looked at differently by everyone, with that said I think it’s ok.The sad side of this story is the fact that it cost way to much OUCH. I can’t understand why local tallent was not used double OUCH! There are some great people down there and they could have had a good local vision or even had spent a few bucks to pole the public a raffle maybe? Buriens budget simply cant afford this stuff, I dont know how to feel good about it with the negative stigmata of 20 grand is looming above it ;( Way to much money was spent and that leaves the mural tainted! Great job but horible managment and planning….

  27. Chris says:

    It’s alright, but not “awesome!” Better than the blank wall that was there. It’s kind of quirkly and I’m fine by that.

    As far as all the vitriolic comments from the seemingly never-short-of-complaints cantankerous haters—well, you can bet that any shred of ethos you may have had has waned completely.

    It’s too bad some can’t simply stick to having a civil (if not polite!) debate about the goings-on within our great community.

    • Shari says:

      Nicely put. And in my case the hoo haw ended up benefiting a local business because I actually went out of my way to go to Bartell’s to buy a bunch of stuff specifically because I told my husband we needed to drive by and study this mural to find out what the heck the uproar was all about (and then of course we went straight home and ate our Velveeta and mayonnaise on Wonder Bread). I guess it’s nice in some way that all of this passion is getting stirred up about what constitutes art/Art and the role of art/Art in public spaces.

  28. Brooks says:

    The first time I looked at the mural, I admit, it didn’t really speak to me. But yesterday as I walking from the knoll in town square park over to the Staples shopping area, I saw it for the first time with all the trees and activity of library traffic coming and going. It looked different.

    I haven’t spent as much time appreciating visual arts as I have music over the years and I recall that my very favorite albums – the ones I listen to years after first hearing them – were rarely ones I like the first time I heard them. Beatles “Revolver”; Pink Floyd “The Wall”; Radiohead’s “Kid A.” If I like something right off that bat, that’s usually because I’ve heard it before (because it’s been done before). I love it when a record pushes me to mature as a listener.

    I look forward to seeing how my preference for the mural evolves. I’m going to give it some time. Maybe it won’t end up being like the Led Zeppelin album that is now a classic, but maybe it will. Either way I’d rather live in a community that takes on artistic endeavors that are new, and reaching, than those that have been done before. I don’t see my appreciation for the mural of Mt. Rainier on the park and ride garage growing much as the years go by.

  29. For those here who are taking all of this seriously, I’d better explain that I was pulling your leg about editor Scott. When he wanted to put my rant up front to stir people up (great call, Scott), I was “in the field” and beyond email access, so he made an executive decision to run it without a Real Name.

    Meanwhile, cantankerous hater that I am (love it, Chris!), I can offer alternatives (other than graffiti artists) to what I criticize:

    Some here might be old enough to remember the murals inside the old Lewis and Clark Theater that stood on Highway 99. Now that was public art that had something to say, commemorating as it did the great historical adventure of our early republic. And what an adventure! Exploration, natural science, hardship and sudden danger, unknown peoples; it was a tremendous story, lending itself perfectly to out-size art.

    The theater is gone now. And in any case, its murals, much as we liked them at the time, were of a style which would appear flat and unemotional today. So, suppose that those who solicited mural designs for the Dollar Tree wall had commissioned Augustina Droze to depict anew the Lewis and Clark story. If her ability as an illustrator to tell a story is comparable to her unquestionable skill at prepping, laying out, and coloring images that jump out at you from any angle, Burien would have one of the greatest adventures of U.S. History come to life again. Classes of grade school kids on field trips would be standing before it daily, with their teachers explaining its significance.

    But, no. Burien wanted Velveeta.

    It’s been fun. Thanks All. Thanks, Scott.

  30. Hotrodgal says:

    In response to a couple comments here…
    Murals are probably one of the most effective measures in preventing graffiti.
    I don’t know if it boils down to an ethics thing with the taggers but it’s a proven fact.

    $12,000 was a low figure for the scope of the project.
    Prep (power washing, etching, priming, etc)
    Top coats
    Actual graphics paint (pricey!)
    Artist overhead (bonding, transportation, licenses…)
    …the list goes on

  31. Was done with this, but got to wondering about the old Lewis and Clark Theater. Found out it opened in 1957, with artwork by a Dutch-born artist, Anthony Heinsbergen, b. 1894. He had a distinguished career decorating theaters; if you’re interested, check his Wikipedia entry.

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