A coffeehouse on Williamson Street has brought vibrancy to the neighborhood for more than 10 years by allowing local graffiti artists to paint murals legally.

One of the owners of the coffeehouse, Jon Hain, said the graffiti wall first started when he heard of other cities having similar projects. He then approached former Alder Judy Olson, who connected him with a local graffiti artist who also expressed interest in the project. 

When the idea was presented to the neighborhood, some residents in the area expressed concern that the wall could encourage further graffiti throughout the area, Hain said. Hain said he told the neighborhood the wall would not allow commercial messages or depictions of racism, sexism or violence.

The first graffiti mural went up in September 2001.

“What really appealed to me about it when I first heard about this concept was I’ve always loved graffiti art and the fact that it’s illegal means that the people who are artists never get to really practice their craft,” Hain said. “I felt like a permission wall gives artists the opportunity to just stretch out and just spend a whole day on it.”

Mother Fool’s has always been involved with encouraging local art, holding monthly art shows featuring drawing, photography and sculpture, while also hosting live music and spoken word events, Hain said.

While the monthly art shows are curated for quality work, Hain said the mural allows for a project that is completely open to any artist.

“I like that part of it is really controlled and part of it is really uncontrolled,” Hain said.

The local community has had positive responses to the graffiti wall, he said. Hain said a local police officer that had been concerned about the project now believes the permission wall has actually decreased illegal graffiti in the area.

Hain said while he is into graffiti art, he was glad to hear that illegal tagging was decreasing because local businesses pay the price for illegal graffiti by having to remove the tagging or pay a ticket.

The graffiti wall has drawn attraction from travelers throughout the country, Hain said. The murals have served as part of the marketing of the business, some of them getting featured in graffiti magazines and websites, he said.

Hain also said the art changes seasonally. He said Murals stay up for weeks during the winter, while in the summer artists will be out every weekend working on new murals.

The street art provided by Mother Fool’s adds to the vibrancy of the community, Hain said.

“I love it, I want to see color, I want to see art and creativity that’s how I feel about flower gardens, I want to see colors erupting all around me,” Hain said. “I think if an artist is using really creative lettering or an image that is important to them, I like that, that adds to my quality of life.”

Mother Fool’s keeps an archive of the artwork, featuring the murals on its website.