Spray on

Graffiti City Art Park

Rafael Reyes points to graffiti on the warehouse that he hopes to run legally as a facility where street artists can practice their craft.

Rafael Reyes points to graffiti on the warehouse that he hopes to run legally as a facility where street artists can practice their craft.


Graffiti City Art Park is crowdfunding to raise money for renovations and clean-up. For information, visit www.gofundme.com/graffiti-cause.
An update to this article was published on Jan. 25. Graffiti “park” halted: https://www.newsreview.com/reno/graffiti-park-halted/content?oid=25736118

According to 48-year-old tattoo artist Rafael Reyes, “graffiti” is a dirty word around here. Spray painting on a wall can result in felony vandalism charges. However, it’s not always easy to distinguish illegal graffiti from the 185 pieces of outdoor public art legally commissioned by the City of Reno, many of which are spray-painted.

Watching the community embrace street art got Reyes wondering how artists could improve as large-scale painters. As a tattoo artist, he knows the value of practice.

“Most of these guys work by themselves in the dark,” he said. “They hide it from their family. That’s so fucking sad.”

He and fellow tattoo artist and muralist Vaka opened a new art supply shop next door to Reyes’s tattoo parlor on Wells Avenue. The shop is called Graffiti City and sells all the necessities for making art on walls of all sizes. He said it’s an environment where artists are free to talk about their projects without feeling like vandals.

Not too long after the opening, Jonny Gama, a friend of Vaka and Reyes, suggested they needed a legal wall for artists to practice on. He mentioned a warehouse at the end of Dermody Way in Sparks. It’s part of a complex of structures on a five-acre property that backs up to the railroad tracks. The current owner is absent. The City of Sparks is unable to contact him. According to Reyes, graffiti artists have been tagging the inside of the warehouse for years.

In November, Reyes, Vaka and Gama began the process of acquiring the property through the Adverse Possession Law, under which legal ownership of an abandoned property can be transferred to another individual who maintains it for five years. The occupant also must pay the property taxes for that time. Reyes said the guys have already put down $48,000 for three years of back taxes.

Word went out on social media about the new “Graffiti City Art Park,” and artists showed up to hit the walls in broad daylight. Since November, dozens of new artworks have gone up outside the building.

“The graffiti community is real tight,” said Vaka. “We may not know each other, but we hear [about stuff] and we’re on it.” Vaka painted a piece next to other renowned local artists Joe C. Rock and Erik Burke, a.k.a. OverUnder.

However, what they are doing isn’t completely legal. According to Shirle Eiting, assistant city attorney for the City of Sparks, the Sparks Fire Department has condemned buildings on the property because of the hazardous glass, scrap metal and trash inside the structures. “Do not enter” signs have been posted.

“Having a graffiti park in the city of Sparks is not a legal business, nor is that area properly zoned for a graffiti park,” Eiting said, adding that Reyes cannot make a motion to change the zoning because he’s not the legal owner.

In their commitment to their cause, Reyes and the guys solicited help from artists to clean up the property. Over the weekend of Jan. 13, with heavy machinery donated from Herc Rentals, dozens of people removed trash and tires.

“I should have taken my time and taken the right steps,” said Reyes, “but shit like this is so cool—why not?”

Reyes, Vaka and Gama envision the future of Graffiti City Art Park as a safe place where artists paint, families hang out, food trucks are posted and everyone is comfortable being themselves.