Adventures written by the VAMONDE Team
Considering all the letters, scrawls and writing both legible and illegible that coat every inch of Graffiti Alley on East Liberty Street, you might walk right past it. There is no clear sign saying “this way to Graffiti Alley“ It’s not listed on one of the handy map kiosks that dot the streets along Ann Arbor’s main drags.
To find it, you may feel like you are embarking on an urban scavenger hunt and it may help to ask some shopkeepers or barkeeps on the strip. Like the owner of Encore Records. He may point you with the utmost confidence that it's just one block away either to the right or the left, but either way, he will be 50 percent correct. To increase your chances, stop into Bar Louie’s where a tattooed barmaid will steer you in the right direction: a quick left outside the bar on Liberty back towards campus, and it will be on your left. If you pass the Korean barbecue place, you've gone too far.
Sure enough, on your left you will feel the cool dank air of Graffiti Alley. Ann Arbor’s unofficial public art spot, the passageway tucked between Washington and Liberty streets has in years past been a source of consternation for local business owners. This is because it’s attracted vagrant behavior from the likes of homeless, panhandlers and drug users that in recent years could be found loitering in the alley.
Today, you will mostly find yourself in a quiet respite from the noisiness of a bustling college town. You may spy on local high school students taking some Instagram shots of themselves enjoying some ice cream purchased at a shop around the corner. In fact, the spot has become popularized in music videos and is a favorite location for taking high school senior portraits.
Upon entering the alley on East Liberty St., look up and you can read some verses from the poet Carl Sandburg.
You are also welcome to plink out a tune on a white, graffiti-covered piano to break the otherwise silence of this alleyway that is officially owned by the Michigan Theater.
Parked at the end of the alley is a Chevy pickup truck. The owner must have had to attain a special permit to park there in this town of strictly-enforced parking and tow-away zones. The Chevy was a reminder that in Michigan, the auto industry is still king.
Cover image by Stacy Gittleman.