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Crew Art: Leave it or Limit it?

Scott Silvestro/The Minaret

Scott Silvestro/The Minaret

Some of the things that make The University of Tampa campus so recognizable have been known to students for decades. Familiarities on campus include the minarets of Plant Hall, the Sticks of Fire in Plant Park, the bumpy, brick-clad roads and, of course, the crew art decorating the seawalls of the Hillsborough River.

Students may be surprised to learn, however, that portions of the crew art covering stretches of the Hillsborough seawall may soon be gone.

The city of Tampa is currently undergoing a number of beautification projects. The next project to be completed is the $15 million remake of Curtis Hixon Park and portions of the Riverwalk.  When finished, the Riverwalk, a 2.2-mile walkway along the Hillsborough River, will give locals and tourists views of the river and the surrounding city.

Because the Riverwalk will attract more tourists to the downtown portion of the river, city officials have begun to raise questions as to whether or not they want the art, or graffiti, so visible to the public.

Lee Hoffman, Riverwalk development manager, said that as downtown Tampa has become more and more developed, some people have sent letters and called in requesting the graffiti be cleaned up. Others, however, have expressed that they would like to see the graffiti kept. Those who wish to see the art kept, Hoffman said, far outnumber those who want it gone.

“My opinion is, I really like [the graffiti],” Hoffman said. “It’s part of who we are.”

Hoffman said although he personally is against getting rid of all the crew art, he thinks it should be restricted in some areas.

“I think it should be somewhat limited just from the proliferation of it,” he said. “If you look at the wall over Rivergate Tower, that’s a tall wall, 30 feet high. If [the graffiti] covers that I think you lose something as you look over Kennedy bridge.”

Hoffman said having the graffiti on smaller portions of the seawall is less of an issue than having it showing on taller areas.

“Where the seawall narrows down to about two feet, it’s much less obtrusive than something that’s on a 30 foot wall,” he said.

There has been no policy drafted to limit the crew art as of yet, but Hoffman believes there needs to be a continued discussion about the issue.

Hoffman wonders, for example, why the graffiti should be acceptable if done by crew teams, but not acceptable if done by others.

“Who says what is crew art or not crew art?” he asked, adding that he’s seen other types of graffiti besides the obvious work of crew teams show up.

Hoffman also posed the question of where the art should end.

“Do we want it to go down Bayshore?” he asked.

Larry Marfise, director of Athletics at UT, said he recently met with Hoffman to discuss the seawall art, though there were no resolutions made.

Marfise said restricting the art to specific areas could pose a serious problem. By limiting the art, officials are in a way saying the art is legal.

“If you tell people it’s legal to do, where do you draw the line?” Marfise asked. “If someone gets hurt, who’s liable? Who’s responsible?”

Marfise also questioned how anyone would really be able to police new restrictions.

“The art doesn’t offend me,” Marfise said. “It kind of helps cover up the moldy seawall. But I understand the city’s concerns as well.”

Marfise said the university hasn’t complained about the graffiti.

“We get calls every once in a while about crew teams being out too early, but no one has ever complained about the graffiti.”

HISTORY OF CREW ART IN TAMPA

Crew art on the seawalls of the Hillsborough have been apparent for many years.

Bill Dunlap, head crew coach, who has been at the university for thirty years, says the markings predated his arrival.

According to Marfise, rowing teams from schools in the Northeast and sometimes the Midwest have traveled to Tampa for years to use the Hillsborough river for practice during their winter and spring breaks.

The McNeel Boathouse, now a residence hall, was originally built to accommodate teams that would use the river for practice.

Rowing teams from other universities would rent the boathouse, sleep in it at night, and wake in the morning to walk only a few feet to the river for practice.

UT used the rent money to pay for the boathouse and also to provide for its own crew program. Once the boathouse became needed for UT residential spaces, however, rowing teams from other universities turned to The Steward’s Foundation to get them on the river.

Crew members now use The Steward’s Foundation to access the river, finding sleep and other accommodations in nearby hotels.

Both Marfise and Dunlap said the crew markings on the seawall are done almost primarily by visiting schools.
As is visible from Plant Park, Yale, Princeton and Rutgers Universities are some of many schools that have left their marks on the river.

“It’s somewhat of a tradition,” Marfise said. “I’ve worked at other schools. Crew teams always come with a territory. They like to let people know they were here.”

Dunlap said UT has painted on the seawalls only twice in his thirty years at the university.

“It’s not something we do,” he said. “If the city established rules, we would abide by them, but it isn’t something our people usually do.”

Marfise said UT student athletes are given a policy that asks them to be respectful.

“We don’t technically allow crew teams to do it,” he said. “But it hasn’t been an issue.”

Neither Marfise nor Dunlap took issue with the crew art from visiting schools.

“I’ve never looked at the art as being detrimental,” said Marfise.

Dunlap said he was neutral toward the art, though he thinks the issue of limiting the art is funny.

“It’s silly. The politicians act like they have some control over it,” he said, adding that they didn’t unless they truly chose to somehow enforce it.

Dunlap remembers days when crew art used to be more exciting  than it is today.

He said crew members used to come with rock climbing gear and stencils to decorate the seawalls.

It would be a “big thing,” he said.

Marfise said the art now isn’t as creative as it used to be.

STUDENT REACTION

UT students reacted strongly to the news of the possibility of restricting crew art. All five students surveyed believed the art should be kept as is.

“I am definitely against [limiting the art],” said Josh Pope, a senior.

“I think graffiti is a form of art. I think people appreciate it—especially college audiences. I think it decorates as opposed to desecrating it.”

Mary Thomas, a freshman, agreed with this sentiment.

“I think they should keep it, it makes it more college-like and gives it character,” she said.

“I like it,” said Danielle Calderone, a junior. “I don’t want them to do anything to it.”

Calderone, who said she spent the summer in Greece where graffiti was present everywhere, learned to appreciate it as an art.

Adrian Forsythe, a junior, also likes the crew art.

“It’s cool,” he said. “As long as it’s not too excessive.”

Emily Mulcahy, a freshman, thinks all of the art should be kept.

“It wouldn’t be fair if they kept some art and erased others,” she said.

LIMITING THE ART

Hoffman made it clear that he had no intention of eliminating all the crew art present on the seawalls.

“From my perspective there is absolutely no move underfoot to get rid of all the crew art,” he said.

“It’s too much a part of what we are and what we’re doing.”

Hoffman still believes there should be further discussion to restrict the art to certain areas.

Dunlap, however, doesn’t believe there will be any change.

“I don’t think they’ll follow thorough,” he said. “In the end, it won’t be any different.”

6 Comments on Crew Art: Leave it or Limit it?

  1. Absolutely leave it!!

    when you think about it, we are some of the only people who live downtown in this area. To visitors it may be a bit unsightly, but it is one of the few things that makes our school feel like a campus, and we are the ones who see it everyday. Taking them down would go even further to sterilize the campus.

    Everything on this campus is always kept clean cut and pristine. We cant hang things in our windows or put things on our balconies, give us something.

    Plus I know a lot of people who have come to visit and got excited when they see paintings from their state’s schools on the wall.

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  2. So much for preserving history.

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  3. Absolutely leave it. It’s a means of preserving history and documenting the nation’s oldest collegiate sport. There are displays that date back to the 70s- and since rowing is a sport that can usually be traced down a family line, it’s pretty cool for us junior or collegiate rowers to see remnants of our parents’ crews. My team just added our own tag to the seawall, for it was the first time our girls’ team had won a state championship or a regional championship- and we did both. While shirts can get worn and medals can get lost, this one simple painting will forever stand- unless, of course, another crew chooses to document their history over it- and when our children row by on the Hillsborough River, it’ll be pretty cool to recognize the art and know those that did it. Nothing here is offensive and it’s probably the only personality that Tampa has to offer. Let it stand.

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  4. Rowing Coach // October 22, 2009 at 1:33 pm // Reply

    I first came to Tampa as a college freshman, on winter break, to train for rowing, in the early 80s. My class painted a column on the highway bridge upstream from the Tampa boathouse. That painting is still there as I head into my 25th college reunion, and as I’ve coached college rowing and brought my own teams to Tampa for nearly 20 years now, I still get to see it every time I head up the river.

    There are a lot of people who have only ever had the chance to come to Tampa, and to discover what a nice city it is, because of rowing. And in a downtown area that has become increasingly corporate and somewhat “correct” in that sense over the years, the cacophony of color and (occasionally) witty or even ribald text (“Princeton Lightweight Crew: 8 skinny men and their 125 lb cox!”) give the area some character that quite nicely accompanies the minarets. Between the two, it screams “college.” A waterway without the “crew art” would leave Tampa diminished, I think.

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  5. Crew art is an institution nationwide – perhaps worldwide. Visiting crews paint their messages along the sea wall of the Montlake Cut in Seattle each year for opening day of boating season. Around the nation classes paint a specific rock or another landmark with “class of 2010”, etc. Crew art is part of the same tradition.

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  6. Hopefully it’s still there.
    The crew art was first started in the spring of 1975 in response to the visiting crews from the north. It was originally a way to claim our territory. territory being, The University of Tampa Crew. Three UT crew members, Jonathan Day, Carlos Garced, and Joel Harris, decided to provide the visiting crews a reminder of whose place they were using, so these bold, young crew members ventured out one night to paint the UT crew logo on one of the columns on the Kennedy Blvd bridge. The rest as they say is history

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