The Citizen published a positive article last weekend on a mural on the wall of the Ottawa Mission. It's one of several walls being done by our group, Ottawa Urban Arts. It's part of the city's Paint It Up! program, sponsored by Crime Prevention Ottawa, designed to prevent tagging, redirect "youth at risk", and also beautify the city.
I was called yesterday about a couple of emails the Citizen had received, one anonymous, one from a Peter Lamar. Content was similar to ones we saw last year-alleges our artists are all currently active graffiti vandals, a selection of photos from the past few years of various tags - most of the photos taken illegally from on-line sites, and a warning to prospective customers not to hire us.
We have tried to get these people to see the positive side of what we do - not interested. They focus on the past, missing the point that often a person's past helps them relate better to current issues - and to others in similar situations.
Here's the article the Citizen published today - could have been more supportive I think, too bad they gave a voice to this vocal minority.
And here's what I sent in today as a Letter to the Editor.
Note - I found out later they did check Lamar's background, and what they found was not relevant to the story. So I asked myself, what did they find? I did a Googlefor the words Peter Lamar Ottawa, and found several entries for that name and location, one about helping in a rescue, and several describing charges in 2005 of 27 Criminal Code offenses, including trafficking in firearms. I've no idea if that is the same person, no idea if the charges stuck. I would hope that whomever this was, they were given the opportunity to reform their ways and the support to do so, and also to learn to help others heading down the same path.
Just as our artists do with the youth we work with.
Anyways - the letter to the Editor...
Thanks for getting some of "our" side of this too, although I still feel it's too bad Peter Lamar gets a podium for his unproven allegations. I assume that although he did admit to "dabbling in graffiti as a teenager" background checks found a clean slate. We've seen these same libelous allegations before, never face to face, often anonymous, full of half truths, sent to our prospective customers to try to dissuade them.
It might be helpful if these naysayers could see first hand the appreciation from and changes in youth at these events - but I'm afraid their open hostility might destroy the trust and positive experience we try to build. It's easy for people to be negative and complain, to pretend to some sort of moral superiority, to poke holes in something that's new or different or not understood. Perhaps, rather than waste time pointing fingers at past mistakes, this small but vocal group could talk with the people we have helped, and hear what the impact has been on the youth. Operation Come Home, Youth Service Bureau, Odawa Native Friendship Centre, Lowertown Community Centre, and more - we'd be glad to provide references. I do admit I'm not perfect, and neither are the youth I work with, it seems only our detractors have that luxury. The difference is that we are working together to create positive change in our corner of the world - and succeeding. And I'll add that while it's nice there is funding to cover materials and some of our time, It's more than just a job for us - it's a passion. I try to follow the advice of my mentor, Const. Scott Mills (Legal Graffiti Coordinator, Toronto Police Service), and be honest and open, focus on and promote the positive, and take encouragement from the little changes we make. I've been working at this for a number of years, promoting this as a valid art form and a tool to prevent unwanted tagging, beautify an area, build stronger communities, and involve youth in the solution. I'll continue to do so, encouraging progress in spite of the occasional bumps in the road. If anyone wants to help out at events, or learn how to apply these concepts - we're at ottawaurbanarts.com . On the other hand, if you just want to complain - don't waste your time or ours, we're busy trying to effect positive change.