Visual Arts

Where's Waldo? The City of Boulder remains intent on hunting him down for eradication

Credit where credit's due: The City of Boulder is impressively good at finding Waldo. Since the city became aware of the Waldo stencils popping up in random, hard-to-spot locations around town in tribute to that famously elusive children's book character last month, the stout-hearted workers of Boulder Public Works have been working hard to find him -- and yesterday, after hunting down an estimated ninth Waldo near Table Mesa Park n Ride, the city announced its plans to take him down.

It's not exactly news that the Boulder municipality is not a fan of Waldo; since initially reacting to the whimsical-but-not-technically-legal graffiti, the city has maintained an unwaveringly humorless stance, insisting that it will not only remove the Waldos from all public lands, but that it will also order local businesses and commercial properties to remove the paintings -- even if the owners of those properties want him to stay -- or face punitive action. What's ironic about this one, perhaps coincidentally, is its location.

For some time now, Boulder has been developing big plans for a transit master plan relating to the coming of LightRail to Boulder, which includes a sizable public art component that applies to the LightRail site and a number of other bus stops and transit locales as well (Table Mesa is not specifically included on that list, but for humor's sake, let's just disregard that). For that Public Art Master Plan, the city adopted a proposal that made some compelling observations about public art:

Public art has the potential to take an environment that could be generic and familiar, and render it a place, unique and memorable ... Public art has the potential to add a layer of ongoing discovery. Themes and connections between individual works can facilitate an extended interest in getting to know a place, while adding layers of interest and meaning. Themes could be informative, whether culturally, historically or environmentally, or more whimsical and abstract.

Hmm... interesting. Because, you know, isn't that pretty much exactly what the Where's Waldo graffiti accomplishes, just without the endless tiers of deliberation and approval? Just saying, dudes, you could be getting the shit for free.

But Boulder is clearly not interested in considering the cultural impact of the graffiti it's erasing any more than Odlaw was interested in deconstructing the reasons he kept trying the steal Waldo's walking stick. Remember Odlaw? Waldo's mustachioed, black-and-yellow-striped arch-nemesis? It's worth noting that his name is just "Waldo" spelled backwards, but still, for the City of Boulder, he provides a conveniently apt metaphor in more ways than one.

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte