Grand Valley Magazine Winter 2015 - (Page 26)
recognition for research
by Matthew Makowski
Under bridges, on street corners and
on the sides of stores, restaurants and
local businesses - these are just some
of the many places to find graffiti in the
southeast area of Grand Rapids.
Most people pass by these colorful
expressions daily without giving them a
second thought. That's not the case for
Alyson Mabie, senior geography major.
Since her first semester at Grand Valley
in 2013, Mabie has been researching
how different graffiti classifications in
southeast Grand Rapids reflect cultural
shifts in varying neighborhoods over time.
Mabie said previous studies on graffiti
culture and distribution have focused
on instances in "mega cities" such as
New York City and Los Angeles but her
work offers insight into the nature of
graffiti in an under-studied location:
"When I started telling local people
what I was doing they often reacted by
saying, 'Graffiti in Grand Rapids? Good
luck with that,' or 'You would probably
have better luck in Detroit or Chicago,'"
She said her interest in this topic began
long before attending Grand Valley.
While growing up in the southeast side
of Grand Rapids, she saw graffiti in her
surroundings and wanted to understand
its meanings more thoroughly.
"People see graffiti art and just assume
the area is somehow more dangerous,"
Mabie said. "This is really where my
research interest began. I saw new
graffiti in places experiencing growth and
renewal. I have learned that graffiti art is
not intended to be threatening and it is
not reserved for juvenile delinquents with
cans of spray paint."
Mabie began her formal research while
attending Grand Rapids Community
College prior to being accepted to Grand
Valley. Last summer, Mabie's research at
GRCC earned her the Geography Lives!
Alyson Mabie examines one
of the more than 740 instances
of graffiti she has located in
southeast Grand Rapids.
photo by Amanda Pitts
Field Study Grant, which was established
to provide promising GRCC geography
students with funds to support geographic
Once at Grand Valley, Mabie utilized
her coursework, professors' guidance
and available mapping tools to expand
her research and collect even more
Mabie's work ethic and long hours led
her to receive a top prize for her research
during the East Lakes/West Lakes Regional
Conference of the Association of American
Geographers in October.
Mabie's work doesn't stop with her first
place prize, however. She is currently diving
deeper into her research with her senior
thesis project under the guidance of Roy
Cole, assistant professor of geography
"The senior thesis is going to take the
spatial distribution a step further and
explore the cultural and demographic
undertones of my study area, their change
over time and how that relates to the
spatial distribution of different graffiti
types," Mabie said.
Cole said Mabie's research is unique
because it combines art and science.
"I've never had a student with a similar
topic," Cole said. "What's really interesting
to me is her combination of art and
science, analyzing artistic expression with
the quantitative methods and the spatial
science of the geographer."
Mabie will present her senior thesis
at the annual meeting of the Michigan
Academy of Science, Arts and Letters
at Andrews University in March and the
annual meeting of the AAG in Chicago
Mabie categorizes graffiti
in these three sections:
symbols specific to a gang
and that gang's "territory."
traditional, name-based writing
often seen in New York City and
Philadelphia in the 1970s.
any graffiti that transcends
name-based style, such as
murals, stencils and stickers.
Watch a video of Mabie
showing examples of graffiti at
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Grand Valley Magazine Winter 2015
RMSC celebrates silver anniversary
Get a job
Another man's treasure
Q&A George Grant Jr.
Off the Path
Grand Valley Magazine Winter 2015