As I walk down the busy streets of downtown South Bend, I start to notice more and more color.
“Was this here before?” I ask myself in regard to a giant mural on the side of the Garage Arcade Bar. “It’s so beautiful.”
Growing up near South Bend, I tend to notice the small improvements, but these murals seem to be popping up with the blink of an eye. I keep walking and notice the many names that are tagged and the art that comes along with them. I became curious about the art; I wanted to know where these murals came from and why the city would choose to keep something that is so commonly viewed as vandalism.
I spoke with graffiti artist Alex Van Galder — known in the art world as “Klober” — and found the root of the city’s art.
Graffiti is a form of street art that can take many forms. From murals to words to patches of color, it can act as a source of relief for artists and nonartists alike.
Van Galder shared his story of graffiti and the origins that brought him here today.
“I started doing graffiti when I was 17,” he said. “Art helped me learn to express myself, and art kept me out of the system and got me into college. Art has changed my life.”
This statement resonated with me — as I’m sure it would with many artists — that art can change a person’s life for the better. There are many cases in which a person finds themselves drawn towards art, specifically in the form of graffiti. When they want to escape from a situation, it can become a safe place to express their emotions.
Many people look at graffiti as a form of vandalism; however, Van Galder’s attitude is quite the contrary. He said many businesses in the area donate to his foundation’s annual “Graff Bash,” which invites artists from the area to come and share their art and paint on walls for charity. It appears that many of the businesses in the downtown area embrace the street art, as it adds color to the city and gives it a modern vibe. When South Bend’s 150th birthday came, there were walls put up on Niles Avenue. Soon these walls turned into canvases for graffiti and have since stayed. Some have even been rebuilt because they are, ironically, vandalized.
There are doodles and drawings on the side of Fiddler’s Hearth, and there is a beautiful mural on the side of Garage Arcade Bar, as I mentioned earlier. These different street art forms add color to the community. According to Van Galder, there is “not a lot of color in South Bend, and people need more hope in the community.” These murals can provide a sense of hope for those who might otherwise end up in undesirable situations or for those who advocate for the growth of South Bend.
My personal favorite from my self-guided “graffiti tour” is the Tom and Jerry mural by @_cshel. It reminds me of my childhood, and the smiles on their faces bring about pure joy. Fun, childlike images, however, are not the only images that are expressed through graffiti. Graffiti can act as a tool to fight for justice, such as the George Floyd image, where people have begun to place flowers in his memory as an act of non-violent protest.
Graffiti is “free art” that can be viewed by anyone, and it’s a great way to get out of the house, dorm, or apartment and do something unique by taking trendy photos — or even artsy ones — to fit your VSCO aesthetic. With every stroke of a brush or rattle of a spray paint can emerges expression and character in an evolving city.
So go out, enjoy the murals, because tomorrow there will be a new, unique work of art waiting to be captured.
You can donate to help support the repair of the South Bend Art wall here.