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Graffiti murals - a positive spin

Artists or vandals

We (Keepsix) have done a number of murals so far: Richmond Road Hydro last fall, then this year Jack Purcell Pool, Photolux Studio in Manotick, Hillary's Drycleaners on Bank, Genest Pool in Vanier (St. Cecile). We're also planning murals on a cube van for Sodexo, a long (200 ft) retaining wall on St. Joseph Blvd in Orleans, and the buildings in behind Bouchey's on Elgin St.

Feedback from customers, politicians, and the public has been very positive. And from the artists of course - they appreciate the opportunity to get their art up, to develop their skills, and to make money at it.

Positive except for an isolated few, such as one I'll call Mr X, since his posts are typical of a small group that criticizes our work. This person that has complained about several of our murals - not directly to Keepsix though. He instead sneaks in to target the customer, BIA's, councilors, to try to discourage them from hiring us. His main complaint is that we are hiring known current vandals, and we support vandalism. He pretends to support our process, but criticizes our approach. He's even complained about the planned St. Joseph blvd mural, his most verbose and far reaching to date. He's refining his spiel, just not his facts. He did miss a few of our murals, maybe he'll catch up.

We do support mural art, and are using it as a way to provide talented youth with an opportunity, a new direction, a way to be part of a community building process that includes them as well as residents and local businesses. Some of the artists have tagged in the past, some may not have completely "kicked" the habit yet, but we still are optimistic about the program and believe in these youth.

I had been summarizing below some complaints that customers have forwarded to me for comment, as well as our responses back to customer questions, and supportive messages from the community. It's become so long a post that I'll just leave Mr. X here, and move the positive responses to here. His accusations may be verbose but are not particularly well written or unique, but are typical of a small group that criticize our work. There are a few that send similar emails to us, or - in a few brave cases - actually show up to complain in person. On occasion they talk and modify their opinions, sometimes they choose to differ. Some are even slanderous, but closing them down would take time and money. Usually their own demonstrations of inflexibility and avoidance of facts is their own undoing. I would rather focus on the positive changes our group is doing.

I'd removed the actual names that he claims are active taggers, since they don't need to be further maligned here, and he presents no formal proof. I also took out his photo links to other's photos of alleged current tags, they don't prove much as there is no easy way to date the tag itself as being last week or last year. It's a long post, but given his repeated complaints I thought I'd be proactive and capture all that has been said so far on this -especially the positive things.  As you'll see he is repetitive - maybe he needs a web site to link people to, to simplify things. Maybe I'll send this link to new customers, just to get this out of the way so we can focus on helping youth and improving the community.

Jack Purcell Pool complaint

From: (name deleted -Editor
Sent: April 14, 2009

To: Holmes, Diane; Watcham, Kathryn
Subject: Jack Purcell Mural Wall - supporting graffiti vandals

(note - street and real names quoted in here have been deleted to protect the accused from further slander - Ed)
Councelor Holmes/Kathryn Watcham,
I write you concerning the art mural wall that was recently put up inside the Jack Purcell pool.

Thought I commend the involvement of artists in putting up murals...and the attempt to rehabilitate graffiti vandals...I have concerns over rewarding vandals who are at the same time vandalizing Ottawa.

The artists that put up the wall were: (name deleted -Ed), (name deleted -Ed), (name deleted -Ed), , (known vandal by the Ottawa Police), and (name deleted -Ed)  . Of these "artists", many are still active vandals in Ottawa.

Also the Keepsix Collective that put this wall up supports vandalism and is part of the graffiti community that continues to vandalize Ottawa. The name "Keepsix" is street slang for watching out and keeping one step ahead of the police (or five-O).

Of the "artists" that you rewarded with this permanent work(name deleted -Ed), , .. has been vandalizing Bank Street rooftops and City of Ottawa Street furniture over the past 2 weeks. And has a long history of damaging property, (name deleted -Ed), . similarly is another long-time vandall, And (name deleted -Ed), .. has in the past caused damage to the outside of the O-train (a few years back).

Why are we rewarding vandals?

Of these "artists" only (name deleted -Ed), .. has chosen to focus on art and to move away from vandalism.

At very least this mural should be modified to remove the names of active vandals.

Richmond Rd Hydro complaint

From: (name deleted -Ed)
Thursday, June 25, 2009

To: [email protected]; [email protected]; HYDRO ONE MEDIA RELA ; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]

(street and real names of artists deleted to avopid further slandering -Ed)
Subject: Hydro One graffiti mural at 1290 Richmond Road
I'm writing to you with respect to the graffiti mural put up at 1290 Richmond Rd on the Hydro One station.

When I initially read about this project I was very interested and excited, as graffiti was a pressing issue in Ottawa and putting up an art mural to convert a vandalism into art seemed like a great idea. However, I have developed some concerns over time.

I am aware that the person that you involved to put up this mural was Mike Mesa...and that he did so with the help of graffiti artists in his KeepSix collective.

The concern I have is with the intentions of the KeepSix collective.

The collective is names after "keep six", street slang used by graffiti vandals and criminals that means to act as a look-up to keep watch for police (police are often referred to as "5-0", like Hawaii 5-0, and keeping six means to stay one step ahead of the police through watchfulness). Which would imply interest/support/connection to criminal activities.

Though the final mural did a great job at including and involving local children as participants...some of the "artists" that participated in putting up the graffiti mural have proven to be vandals and have been active vandalizing City and private property since they worked on the Hydro One mural, which is contrary to the spirit of the "GAIN RESPECT THROUGH COMMUNITY INVOLVMENT".

The artists that were involved with the project were .(name deleted - Ed), (name deleted - Ed), ., .(name deleted - Ed), ., .(name deleted - Ed), ., and ..(name deleted - Ed).

.(name deleted - Ed)..and ..(name deleted - Ed)....have been active vandalizing downtown Ottawa since October 2008, and during 2009.

In addition all the artists that participated in the mural chose to use fake names, at least in the following article, which implies that they had something to conceal...and were afraid to be open and honest. (doesn't show that in article that he linked to -Ed)

I am also concerned that the artists chose to use as content for the mural their graffiti tags (name deleted)..(name deleted)., .(name deleted).., and .(name deleted)..) instead of something that might relate to the community or to the sponsors of the mural. In doing so they have used the wall at 1290 Richmond Rd as an advertisement for their graffiti efforts / art (and may be in opposition to the City of Ottawa advertising signage by-law).

For these reasons I wanted to bring to your attention how you may have been duped and exploited by graffiti vandals under the guise of being graffiti artists and wishing to help your community. Though I don't imagine there is any way to remedy this current situation (short of whitewashing all the tags of the graffiti vandals that were involved in the mural)...hopefully this information will be of value to you in the future with any future mural wall project that the City or the police may be involved in.

I would suggest that ideally Ottawa communities should seek out actual legitimate and professional artists or amateur community members...and not former/current graffiti vandals for mural project. Additionally, mural content should be organized around a theme relevant to the communities involved, and not be a billboard for the tags of graffiti vandals. Also any graffiti artists involved in any future murals should have their identities carefully scrutinized and criminally checked prior to being involved in community positive that they do not end up embarassing the City/community/police.

Should there be any more information I can provide, feel free to contact me.

Complaint about St. Joseph blvd Ravine wall mural (his most verbose so far - send to BIA board - Ed)
I'm not officially affiliated to any organizations. I'm just a local citizen who has an interest in graffiti and graffiti culture, and some knowledge. 
I wrote to you because I heard about the iniative to put up an art mural in Orleans...and knowing a bit about some of the local advocates for graffiti art...and how aggressive and persistent they are to forward their agenda and exploit mural wall opportuntites...I expect you have likely been in contact with them.
So I wanted to give you some additional perspective.
The most active advocates for Graffiti culture in Ottawa are Mike Mesa and Mike Young. They are working hard to legitimize graffiti art...and to foster opportunities for graffiti installations and for graffiti culture. They are affiliated with the KeepSix collective (the term "Keep Six" refers to having a sentry watching out for the police when commiting illegal acts...and in this way stay "one step ahead of the 5-0"), Communites Advancing Valued Environments (CAVE) and GART (Graffiti Art).
They advocate graffiti-based murals as deterents for vandalism...and to redirect youths away from property vandalism into more positive outlets....and integrate them into the community.
In reality, graffiti vandals have their own community...and their own rules. They have little interest in following rules imposed by the City or society.
As part of the graffiti community Mike Young and Mike Mesa are interested in promoting any graffiti. They aren't purely interested in just legal acts of graffiti, but all forms of graffiti. They feel that graffiti vandalism should be illegal...and they are close friends to active vandals. So, in promoting graffiti they also support illegal acts of vandalism...which have a negative impact on Ottawa businesses and property owners.
Currently there is a very tense dynamic in Ottawa with respect to graffiti. The City is cracking down on vandalism. Businesses are upset with having to pay to remove property damage. BIAs are using City grants and business dues to clean their BIA. Vandals are learning that graffiti committed against businesses have shorter shelf-lives.
There are a few legal spaces where graffiti can be freely put up. But there is also a hypocrisy where "artists" who legally put up graffiti on legal walls proceed to walk down the street and change hats and become "vandals" who attack residential and business properties (as well as City properties).
Mr. Mesa and Mr. Young are friends and advocates for these vandals...and choose to employ them when putting up City and Community sponsored mural walls.
I can only assume this is the case because they have their own agenda that is not in the communal interest of the City and property owners...and are hoping that the inexperience and lack of knowledge of community leaders with respect to graffiti will make them unable to realize that the same artists that are putting up paid commissions....are also carrying out attacks on properties.
For example,
This spring a graffiti mural was put up at the Jack Purcell pool of Elgin street. This mural was put up by the KeepSix collective. It was carried out by .(name deleted).., ..(name deleted)., .(name deleted).., and .(name deleted).. In the same timeframe .(name deleted)..and .(name deleted)..vandalized Bank street. And .(name deleted)..has been active in the past vandalizing the OTrain and CNR freights.

 Also in October of 2008 a mural wall was put up at the Ottawa Hydro transformer station on Richmond Road by the KeepSix collective. The artist were ..(name deleted)., .(name deleted).., ..(name deleted)., and .(name deleted).... Since then .(name deleted)...and (name deleted)...have both been active vandalizing downtown properties, as recently as last week.

Additionally, there are other graffiti art teams that also are made up of hardcord vandals (long list deleted).
For this reason I wanted to alert you and the Orleans BIA and Community groups to this danger.
Potentially, in selecting a graffiti-based art team to put up your mural may fall victim to supporting and encouraging vandalism against your community and Ottawa.
- By paying vandals to be artists
- By supporting and encouraging active and inactive criminals
- By allowing vandals to put up their graffiti tags as art in your mural
- By forwarding the agenda of graffiti supporters to encourage graffiti art (without considering accountability and ethics)
- By allowing excess paint from the mural to be retained by vandals...who will use it to damage properties
- By drawing kids who are fans of vandals to the area to view the finished mural by their vandal heros...and inspiring them to leave their own marks on nearby properties in hommage
- By presenting a business model to new vandals whereby they too can become successful mural artists if they follow the path of their vandal heros and raise their profile through continued property vandalism
There are a variety of legitimate mural wall artists in Ottawa. They aren't as cheap as graffiti-based artists (who are desperate to paint and will potentially take any opportunity, perhaps even for no money, if you supply the get their art up in prominent locations...and potentially get some excess paint out of the deal).  But they don't potentially have criminal pasts...hidden agendas....and aren't likely to vandalize property in your area during the evening on their way home...or to draw kids who wish to vandalize to your area.
If there is any way I can help out by providing more specific information...please feel free to email me.  Please feel free to forward to your community that they too can be better informed on the dangers of graffiti-based murals (which they may be considering to abate vandalism).




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