Graffiti Bridge: Pensacola’s voice for the people

By Mackenzie Kees
Opinions Editor

history

An historic look (circa 1935) at the 17th street underpass fondly known as “Graffiti Bridge” by locals.
Photo courtesy of Florida Memory.

The purpose of a landmark is essentially straightforward: to mark the land. This is done for several reasons, but mainly landmarks are used as navigational points. However, in this modern age, landmarks have become more and more passé with the spread of technology. Google Maps and other apps now are considered the norm for getting directions. So where does that leave landmarks?

Pensacola’s “Graffiti Bridge” is one such landmark, but it refuses to grow obsolete. It’s true that CSX Transportation has been using the bridge’s rails for many years, but that is usually more of a hindrance to locals than a help. If that were the bridge’s only purpose, the interest would likely be nonexistent. But it does have another purpose: aesthetics.

The 17th Street underpass is more than just a bridge; it is a way for people to communicate, to share ideas, hopes, fears and everything in between through the use of artwork. Some people abuse this gift to spread hate, but the general goodwill of most Pensacolians always overwhelms the haters.

Graffiti Bridge is not only a palette for artwork, either. It also inspires it.

One Pensacola resident harnessed this inspiration to create a book consisting of Graffiti Bridge images, taken over the span of a year. “What [the naysayers] taught me was that even though somebody’s story is covered up and changed, it’s really never gone, and that’s the same with people,” said Rachael Pongetti, the photographer behind the 365-day project. “People’s lives and their stories are written on that bridge, and they tell something important, and even though it’s gone in a matter of a few hours, it’s really not gone; it simply became a layer.”

Pongetti, a UWF graduate, has been an art instructor at both Pensacola State College and UWF. She’s also worked with PACE Center for Girls and the Pensacola Museum of Art. Pongetti’s book “Layers” is expected to come out sometime in the next few months, but no official date has been confirmed.

“I consider spray painting the bridge a right of passage,” said Cody Lonon, a UWF senior majoring in Health Science. “It’s something that everyone does at least once in high school or in college. If you haven’t, you’re one of few.”

“Tagging” Graffiti Bridge has become a tradition for locals, so much so that the Pensacola Police Department does not interfere when the bridge is being painted. They have been known to show up to supervise, but overall they are encouraging. It is the only place in Pensacola where graffiti can be painted legally.

The bridge is in a constant state of flux, because it is always changing. Pongetti said she feels that this is one of the best aspects about Graffiti Bridge. It allows for freedom of expression through the use of images and words. Pensacola residents are encouraged to leave their own mark on the beloved Graffiti Bridge and add to the multiple layers already there.

graffiti

Another day, another version of the Graffiti Bridge.
Photo courtesy of Pensacola Graffiti Project.

“Graffiti Bridge serves as a platform for expression. It is a stage to express political views, a billboard to inform of upcoming events, and a canvas for street artists,” Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward III said in a statement to First City Art Center, which hosted an exhibition of the book’s photos in April 2015.

The Graffiti Bridge has its own Facebook page where you can keep up with the new artwork on a daily basis. You can see a time-lapse video that Pongetti made on YouTube. For more on Pongetti’s project, visit her website.