Star Wars street art
Fay Grim - and stuff

Urban arts forum

I was pleased to be a guest at an Urban Arts Forum last Wednesday evening (Nov 7), at the SAW Gallery, one of several such forums across Canada that the Governor General's office has coordinated. I was also pleased to be able to add to the ambiance with an exhibition of 28 photos (mine and others) I'd collected on graffiti and our local HoP festival. There were about 200 people there, mostly youth, with some good dialogue on the issues, and some good ideas on solutions. There was a good review of the evening in today's Ottawa Citizen Arts Section.

So - now what? I put in some feedback on the forum blog, sent a note to a number of my local contacts to get their input, and submitted a letter to the editor (Ottawa Citizen). They published it, with a large photo of Her Excellency getting down with Oni the Haitian Sensation. Here's my letter:

Let's channel the energy Governor General sparked - The Ottawa Citizen - Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Re: Jean steps out with street cred, Nov. 10.

Many thanks to Gov. Gen. Michaƫlle Jean for organizing one of a series of urban arts summits across Canada. I was glad to see so much enthusiasm, and hear so many youth and adults speak up on the issues surrounding urban arts in the Ottawa area.

One of the issues raised at the forum that I attended was that the youth do talk, but the adults don't listen.

Former senator Laurier Lapierre spoke of those who live in an "adult ghetto," comfortable within the walls of their own culture and somewhat confused and uncomfortable if they venture outside and encounter things like "hip-hopping."

I admit I was one of those, until eight years ago my eye was caught by a bright spray of graffiti in a back alley.

I started photographing this new (to me) art form, both to preserve and promote these murals to my peers, whether they were neighbours in suburbia or co-workers in office cubicles.

My passion for this led to an expanded interest in other elements of this culture, so that now my circle of peers and friends has been enriched and expanded to include bboys/bgirls (breakdancers), DJs, MCs, and graffiti artists.

I'm glad I ventured out; there are different and interesting ideas outside those walls, and there is also some great art painted on them.

So we had an enthusiastic and well-attended forum in Ottawa. People talked, people listened, there were many valid issues, some creative suggestions -- now what? It's not enough to say that "we" talked, and "they" listened, now "they" fix it. The challenge for everyone is now to build on the momentum, put in some hours, and start making things happen.

Some of the issues raised included poor publicity, Ottawa's conservative risk-averse culture; a lack of communication and disorganization. Perhaps some of those who were calling for action at the forum could start an Ottawa area urban arts committee, with a mission to co-ordinate and guide the development of urban arts here, especially hip-hop culture. Nothing very formal for now, something independent rather than another city committee. This group could channel and encourage enthusiasm and ideas, and add some structure, some funding, some tools, some planning and goals, and pick some objectives for the year.

I'd love to see us all gather next year to celebrate a list of accomplishments, and even be a role model for other cities trying to effect these changes.

If you're interested in more information on urban arts issues, or in taking action, you can contact the Governor General's forum at, or e-mail me via my blog at

We'll see what happens - I'm not interested in this being a one-man show, or a committee of just adults, "official representatives" that are there just to be seen but don't add any real value, that are too busy to commit to some time and deliverables. That may sound cynical, but it happens too often. As I said in my letter, some of us can add structure, help find funding, sort out red tape, but the action needs to be primarily from the urban arts community and youth.   


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Mark Leahy

Great piece Mike. May you open minds and break the bonds that sometimes keep this town too darn stodgy!

Kelly Balon

agreed. Let's keep doing this every year and get more stakeholders involved. Ms Jean is in Vancouver on the 24th and we'll be there. RAW TALENT III on the 25th. Vancouver's kicking off 2008.

check out


I'd like to us gather each year for this too , as long as it's to celebrate what we've done so far. Not sure how to get things happening in between, I'd prefer a planned approach but may be just random acts of artistic activism for now. Which is better than nothing.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)