University City

Clean Graffiti Project puts children-supportive messages on sidewalks

Imagine trudging to school and stumbling upon a message such as “Hold your head up high” or “Do good” written on the sidewalk.

Around March, children in west Charlotte neighborhoods will begin seeing positive notes like that along the common paths to their schools, thanks to the Clean Graffiti Project, the brainchild of Torrie Savage and her business partner, Paula Bartlett.

The two, who run a NoDa marketing firm named #thesavageway, came up with the idea to inspire children from lower-income neighborhoods who might not get enough positive affirmation in their daily lives.

Savage and Bartlett have partnered with Project LIFT, a nonprofit that works to improve test scores and the graduation rate in struggling west Charlotte schools. They have asked advanced art students from West Charlotte High School to design the slogans.

“We’re looking for positive messages,” Savage said. “What do these kids need to see? What will actually speak to them? Is it something more fun and quirky and a little bit younger, or is it something simpler, like ‘Do good’?”

The affirmations will be written at and around West Charlotte High School and the eight schools that feed into the high school: Allenbrook Elementary, Statesville Road Elementary, Ashley Park pre-kindergarten through eighth, Ranson IB Middle, Walter G. Byers schools and Bruns, Druid Hills and Thomasboro academies.

Queen City Soup, a regional micro-grant program for artists and community activists in Charlotte, is funding the installation through Project Art Aid, an initiative that awards grants of $1,500 to $2,500 to artists for projects that benefit communities in Charlotte.

Clean graffiti is a fairly new advertising concept in the U.S. Popular in Europe, it requires only a stencil, dirty concrete and a pressure washer.

“It’s completely eco-friendly,” Savage said. “We don’t change the surface of the sidewalk. We don’t use any chemicals or paint or chalk. It is literally a contrast of dirt and clean.”

Savage began offering clean graffiti to her clients two years ago, shortly after discovering the contrasting designs she could make while pressure-washing her father’s sidewalk.

“I wrote the name ‘Savage’ on the sidewalk, and it was kind of an aha moment,” said Savage, who later learned of its popularity abroad through an Internet search.

Savage and Bartlett since have become accustomed to scouring the city’s sidewalks and concrete walls in search of the best dirty canvases.

“I never thought in my life I would be looking at dirt like I do,” said Savage, who spent nearly a decade working in commercial advertising firms that required her to peruse glossy magazines, not spot filth.

It’s not uncommon on the streets of NoDa to see her plain white van trolling about as she looks for an imperfection such as a cracked sidewalk to serve as her muse.

Savage has stenciled lighthearted warnings about uneven pavement and jagged cracks along running paths, followed a few yards later by a client’s logo.

“They just wanted a creative way to get their message out,” Savage said. “What we saw happening is people would be running and see these messages and stop and Instagram them, or tweet them: ‘The sidewalk is telling me to stay strong.’ ”

It’s those kinds of thoughts the Clean Graffiti Project hopes to impress on the children who see them along their school paths.

“We can make a positive change by a simple message on the sidewalk,” said Savage.