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Pugsslane Art Alley

Where creative expression meets historic preservation

Published in the September 2022 Issue Published online: Sep 18, 2022 Arts & Culture
Viewed 764 time(s)



STORY AND PHOTOS BY ANNIE CARBUTT

IDAHO FALLS IS HOME TO SOME PRETTY BRILLIANT GEMS, even beyond the semi-precious variety. One of these is the downtown art alley Pugsslane at 352 B St. This hidden nook of artistic expression was once littered with the standard back-alley display of graffiti tags and pigeon droppings. Since its adoption as Pugsslane in the spring of 2017, the alley has transformed into a living gallery for local artists to share their work—and pigeon droppings are pretty hard to come by. This is all thanks to Gibby Smede, Pugsslane creator and manager (and one of Idaho Falls’ rarest hidden gems).

Gibby is a true visionary with an indomitable creative spirit. She thought up the idea for Pugsslane as a senior class project after noting that the alleys in Downtown Idaho Falls were becoming an eyesore. Though she was still in high school and unsure of where to start, she decided to do something about it.

Gibby had previous experience painting murals at her high school stomping grounds, Compass Academy. Her vision for Pugsslane was to create a space where artists of all ages and backgrounds could get a chance to paint some murals of their own. Gibby obtained permission from the property owners of the buildings on either side of the alley and got to work. She started by painting a clean coat of white paint through the entire alley, all funded out of her own pocket. She did this to cover up the graffiti and provide a blank canvas for artists to work with.

“It took forever, but it was worth it.” she said. “I didn’t even care how much it cost. I was just really excited to get artists in there.”

On the start date of May 1, a group of six people came and painted murals with Gibby. After hours of work, the result was an impressive gallery of eclectic and colorful art. Pugsslane was an immediate success.

It wasn’t too long after this that Gibby went away to college. When she got home the alley was covered in graffiti. It was a mess. Gibby set to work trying to clean it all up, which was overwhelming (not to mention the place was now covered in a fresh layer of pigeon droppings).

This is when Gibby met Jim Pletscher (see our story on page 54). Jim heard that Gibby needed help and rolled up his sleeves without a second thought. The two spent hours cleaning together. When they were finished, the alley looked like a completely new place, and the two had become fast friends.

Now Gibby stays on top of the cleanup regularly. Jim is always happy to help. “I try to get in there as quickly as possible after graffiti shows up because I’ve found that if something exists there for even more than a few days, then there’s more. People see it and think, oh, it’s allowed in here,” Gibby said.

As frustrating as the work of regular cleanup can be, she’s noted that it’s paying off.

“Last summer I came in to clean up graffiti everyday, but then I went through a whole winter with nothing showing up. I was amazed. The more we clean it up, the less people seem to be comfortable with messing it up again,” she said.

“It’s ridiculous for someone to put graffiti in the alley, because it’s like, just talk to me. You can create art for real, and you don’t have to worry about the cops. I do put in police reports every once in a while if graffiti is really bad. If they tag art or deface something, I take that seriously.” Really, this is the whole idea behind Pugsslane: to give people a place to create art on purpose so they don’t feel the need to cover buildings and dumpsters in graffiti. Gibby wants people to know that anyone can create art in Pugsslane if they really want to.

“I try to keep the rules really light. I’ll never tell someone to not put something up because I don’t like their art,” she said. “Mainly I let people know not to paint anything profane or political or religious. We don’t want to offend anyone. Those are the things that will get tagged.”

To make space for more artists to play, Gibby periodically paints over the alley in white for a clean start. This is what makes it a living gallery. Gibby hopes to expand the project in the future to more alleys so there is more space for art and also more efforts to keep alleys clean. She also hopes to see a broader variety of artists signing up to paint.

“I was so excited to have a young, 6-yearold artist come and paint,” she said. “She did an amazing job painting her rainbow. I want people to see that anyone can do this. You don’t have to be ‘good enough’ to get into the alley.”

One thing Gibby wants to educate people about is the fact that she cares about the historic value of the old buildings in the alley.

“Sometimes people ask me why I’m letting people paint on historic buildings,” she said. “The lower area where everyone paints is where tags are. Above that where the brick is untouched, we don’t paint there because it’s still part of historic downtown. It makes sense to paint down lower because it’s already been covered a million times with graffiti and we’re just cleaning it up and making it look better. We aren’t destroying anything, we’re just enhancing it.”

Currently Gibby works at a daycare where she teaches art to preschoolers. Art is her life. She has hopes of expanding the mural project to include the larger alley that runs perpendicular to Pugsslane. She wants the whole alley to feel safer and cleaner, a place people wouldn’t mind walking through. She wants it to be an enjoyable part of the downtown experience.

“I’ve seen what cleaning up one alley and bringing in art can do,” she said. “I’d love to see more of this.”

To learn more about Pugsslane Art Alley, check out the Instagram page @pugsslanealley where you can see some of the art or submit a draft and sign up to paint a mural of your own.

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