Artists or vandals
Last post - and a mural

Graffiti murals - a positive spin

As I'd mentiond in this other post, we - keepsix collective - have indirectly received a number of complaints about our approach we use to help combat vandalism, build stronger social communities, beautify neighbourhoods, and involve youth in the solution -providing them with alternatives and ways to change their habits. There have been accusations about our artists, assumptions about thir aims and ours, whether this kind of program works. They are all from one person, whom I'll refer to as Mr. X - he's never contacted any of our groups directly, instead preferring to spread his ideas behind the scenes to any of our customers. With little effect, we are hoping, as we have already explained our concept to them and they are already supportive of it, or at least willing to see how it can help. Not sure what the effect has been on getting new customers though.

There has been a lot of discussion on this, so I've split our "sides" (if we need to call it that). I've put Mr. X's accusations into the post Artists or Vandals. And in this post here, Graffiti murals, I've put the positive spin, where I describe our approach, along with some responses that have been sent to customers regarding Mr. X, and support from various groups we work with.

I see these constant emails as an opportunity to respond and promote our positive ideas to more people. The unfortunate thing is they not only discourage new customers, they also take away time we could be spending working on a positive and proven alternative - we are not content to just sit and complain, we belive in being agents of change.

As always - comments welcome from all, I just ask that you be respectful in them and that you be open and say who you really are.

 Keepsix reply back to customer for Jack Purcell Pool

The artists that put up the wall were: .....
I’m surprised that only a few days after the photo was posted to Flickr, Mr. X was able to figure out the real names of the artists involved. I would hope this was not done via police files, as there would be privacy issues there. I am also surprised that they would be accused of being vandals, rather than alleging they are. This could be interpreted as slanderous, but maybe since they are young and relatively poor it’s not an issue that is being worried about. And finally, I am annoyed that this person would use my photos, which I take to promote the positive possibilities of these situation, in a clumsy attempt to slander these youth.

Of these "artists", many are still active vandals in Ottawa.

Mr. X seems to feel that since he’s convinced these people are vandals, that the work they did on the wall is not that of only ‘artists" . I would suggest he look at the mural and try to argue with all those that have appreciated it so far that this is not art, that these are in fact talented artists.

Also the Keepsix Collective that put this wall up supports vandalism and is part of the graffiti community that continues to vandalize Ottawa.

The Keepsix Collective does nor support or promote vandalism, our goals are to give young artists an opportunity to further explore the possibilities of this medium, to develop their talents into a new direction, to contribute to the local community, and be recognized artistically and financially for their efforts.

This is the same approach use by the Gatineau youth program as part of their successful graffiti management program. It’s also what Const. Scott Mills successfully uses in his program, as Toronto Crime Stoppers School Officer and Legal Graffiti Art Coordinator. He is also Operations Director for the province’s NOtoGANGS.org . As an aside, his figures show that less than 5% of their graffiti is gang related.

If Mr X is looking for more information on this program, Scott can be reached at his office 416-808-7260 or pager 416-374-3031 . Real life examples of youth he has helped re-direct and develop are at www.youtube.com/LegalGraffitiArt

Neil Wright, of Wright Real Estate in Toronto, has supported Scott in his community transformation work, both in words and in donations. He’s at http://wrightrealestate.ca

Scott Mills talks to community groups about the thrill that some of these youth get when they get into tagging, he sees it as being like the rush you can get from drugs. Some can drop it and move on easily to something else, some not so easily. And, like anything we get addicted to – be it smoking or video games or the rush of an illegal tag – changing behaviour takes time and a support network. Not just fines and jail time.

Unfortunately, we have little in our cities in infrastructure to support these kind of programs – support from the city itself or from business leaders. I know the city is planning a mural program, but that is still a year away, and will likely be enmeshed with their current eradication program.

Hopefully some of the naysayers are prepared to work towards solutions with long term effects, of looking for a more successful approach that they are a part of. Rather than re-prime their walls and call for more patrols, they can be part of a community focused approach that brings youth, residents, and businesses together. An approach that can make their neighbourhood not only feel safer, but also be more attractive, with a stronger social network in place.

We would be happy to have them work with us to identify areas focus on, we would be even happier if their support was also financial.

The name "Keepsix" is street slang for watching out and keeping one step ahead of the police (or five-O).

The term actually originated with military patrols. At any rate, we think of our work as watching out for artists, as they are often singled out or maligned by the public.

 Keepsix reply back to customer for Richmond Rd Hydro

The Keepsix Collective is a resource that myself and Mike Young have developed to bring artists together to paint over vandalism. The wall was vandalized on a regular basis, not by anyone that I associate with, we painted a mural, worked with the kids and came up with some artwork.

I think its a win win situation.

City council has received a few negative emails regarding our mural work. This is supposed to be a positive thing, something to give back to the community. I myself have not been a part of any vandalism in years and I resent the fact that some community members are trying to throw a wrench in the spoke of progress. I brought a few people on board that wanted to do something good, and give something back; their actions outside of our mural project are unfortunately out of my control.

The murals should be about the artwork and pushing alternatives to business owners wasting money on cleaning tags time and time again. I haven't been by the mural in a few weeks, but it was still untouched by vandals, isn't this what we set out to accomplish?

Graffiti management in Ottawa is and always will be an ongoing battle. We are trying to pull people out of the vandalism side and bring them over to the legal commissioned side of graffiti art. I apologize for any bad press that the Ottawa police, Hydro One, or city council has received because of our project. I think there are still alot of community members that just don't realize that we are trying to help, not hinder progress.

The mural was never meant to be a "billboard" for vandalism. If it were that simple I would not have taken time out of my busy schedule to spend time with the kids at foster farm, or worked along side Maria.

The mural itself is a community message of positivity as well as an active deterrent for graffiti vandalism. I'm proud of what I've done and how many people in the community have came and thanked us for painting.

In the end I cannot stop anyone from painting illegally, but we've been busting our butts trying to get people to come over to the legal side of things. I think that if certain community members like Mr X keep trying to beleaguer artists in the graffiti community they will regress even further and amp up the vandalism. We're here to stop the regression.

If anyone would like to talk to myself directly, please forward them to [email protected] Its funny that I have not received any emails asking what our project is about, yet they will email you and tell you how it is.

I have more to say on this issue, but Ill keep it to a minimum for now.

I'm proud to have been a part of the hydro/police project and one person's comments shouldn't bring a black cloud over something that was supposed to be a positive experience for everyone.

Maria Keen (Community Police) response to Richmond Rd Complaint

I have to admit that when I read this email I was a little taken aback. Since the mural project, I have received nothing but positive comments about it. Having said that, I just want to reiterate that prior to the project date, myself and my volunteer had conducted months of research into the BENEFITS of placing a mural (whether it was a grafitti mural or an art mural). Also, one of the major challenges we faced was getting a volunteer graffiti artist who would assist us. I am very much aware and educated on the graffiti culture, and knew that the lack of response was due to fact that a lot of taggers and graffitists are known to be involved in criminal activity.

When I posted the add for a graffiti artist on Kijji.com, I received a reponse from Mike Mesa within a few days. I was pleasantly surprised, but, admittedly cautious. I immediately met with Mike and his counterparts. Because this was a partnership with the police, I conducted this meeting similar to an Ottawa Police Volunteer interview. Mike expressed his interest in assisting us because he wanted to change the public's view of graffiti art. He brought along with him a very impressive portfolio. Murals, and art he had completed for various organizations in the United States and in Canada. Mike also expressed a personal interest in my initiative because he respected the police and because his father is a police officer in London, Ontario. He admitted that he wanted to do this for his father.

At no point in my conversation with Mike that I felt uncomfortable with his or his counterparts' involvement in my project. Afterall , they knew that this was going to be a very publicized project. If they were involoved in any form of criminal activity, they would have not continued with the project.

As I got to know Mike and his collegues, I began to see them as role models for the youths at Foster Farm. Thoughout the program, they continued to reinforce the differences between vandalism and what they would be doing for the project.

Since last October when the mural was placed at 1290 Richmond Road, I have had numerous positive comments from the community at large. From youths, to the Senior Citizens that live directly across the street. I have had inquires from police services across the Province. Most recently, a police officer from Waterloo Regional Police Service visited Ottawa specifically to speak to myself and Cst. McDougall (Barrhaven Community Police) about the City of Ottawa's Grafitti Management program, and the Mural Project at 1290 Richmond Road. This officer's goal is to implement a similar project in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. Furthermore, a representative from the National Capital Commission also approached me about the mural project and wanted me to participate in a program they had with the youth on Canada Day.

In closing, over the past seven months, the community surrounding 1290 Richmond Road, has benefited from the mural that was placed there by MANY partners. Notjust by Mike and his Keepsix group, but, by the youths and the parents from the Foster Farm Community, Hydro One, the City of Ottawa and the Ottawa Police Service.

If you have any further questions or concerns, Please do not hesitate to contact me

I agree that we just have to keep repeating our message, and demonstrating through our work that we do care about the problem, are willing to work together at a solution, and that solution does have its successes.

There are some naysayers in Ottawa about this, many willing to criticize, few willing to help. And we are a conservative town in attitudes, many think we are too soft on crime, the solution to society's problems lies in more patrols, more jails.

But there are also many supporters of the concept - in city staff, the business community, residents, and in community policing.

Keepsix response for Richmond Rd - an addition

I'd like to add a few points to your response if I may.

First, the preoccupation with our name "Keepsix", and suggesting it means we support criminals. I think the origin of the term is actually from the military, meaning to watch the rear -six-o'clock position - of a squad on patrol. In our case, it's just one of the many slang terms in hip-hop culture, nothing to deep about it. If people still insist on more meaning to it, they can think of it as us being a protector and watchdog for youth, as they explore and develop, to help counteract the stereotyping and negativity they often face, and to encourage positive outcomes.

Second, the idea that this is a billboard for tagging, in the intricately interlocked lettering he sees in part of the graffiti style, of the hip-hop culture that many youth appreciate and are part of. One of the hip-hop elements of DJ's spinning, MC's rapping, bboys/bgirls dancing, and artists/writers painting. Yes - they are artists, and this is a part of the style. Many can also do murals of only characters and scenery - all using the difficult medium of the spray can - but where possible we include some lettering style in the balance. These are meant to be not just a deterrent to tagging, but a display of public art, which can encompass many different styles and elements. This is an opportunity for youth to express themselves, to work with the community as part of a solution, and be accepted as part of the community.

Finally, it's all about balance and tolerance, and it works both ways.

Some of these youth may have been illegal taggers in the past, some may still carry a marker and hit the occasional back wall, but we try to focus on and encourage the positive.

For many youth, there's the rush, almost addiction, of an illegal tag, or an underage beer, or a joyride in a car. It's a time of rebellion and experimentation and testing of boundaries - we've all been there. We try to replace that with the rush of seeing a carefully executed work of art exhibited in public, with the admiration of both their peers and the public - us old folks. We don't want to deny them entry to the program, that would be like trying to start up a rehab program and refusing anyone that was into drugs, or alcohol, or whatever.

It also can be a time of mentoring and guidance. I have worked for several years with Const. Scott Mills in Toronto, he is with Crime Stoppers and School Liaison and is the Legal Graffiti coordinator for the Toronto Police Service. He takes youth into his program, starts them off in a project just priming the walls, but eventually many are mentored and develop skills as recognized artists. His program has been successful not only in developing several local artists, but also in providing youth with positive role models, and vastly increasing their trust of the Crimestoppers program, and it's effectiveness with local youth.

It is frustrating sometimes to us that "get it", when we hear the same criticisms and complaints. It seems many of the critics are frustrated too when they see that more patrols and stiffer fines are not working. I would suggest that they come to some of our events, not to shake a finger and alleged vandals or pontificate on the good old days, but to learn form us and the youth. And maybe even pick up a paint roller to help.

Nathan Hoedeman (Community Police) response 

Very interesting read. Great perspectives on these issues. It is always harder to operate from a "enlightened" platform when there is so much fear out there around this issue. Things are ramping up around downtown as well and recent police interventions have resulted in several arrests of taggers in the Bank Street and Preston Street areas.

I have always seen disenfranchised youth as a sign that the collective society is not able to "connect the dots" any longer. If we build impersonal communities that are not inclusive to youth, then we are in fact making it easy for youth to become disenfranchised and not really care about the negative impact of their behavior. Its the adults of society that need to do a "gut check" and see what daily choices they are making that directly or indirectly contribute to creating communities where some of our youth feel disconnected. As we know, these youth will find a way to speak out in their own way.

At the end of the day, if the adults and community service providers showed compassion and a genuine interest in engaging these youth in a positive way, I am confident that disenfranchised youth would find a way channel their energy into doing something that contributed positively towards their community and the community would be the better for it.

My two cents.

Response From Scott Mills - Toronto Police Service
 
Perspectives like Mr X express here are common challenges I face... and responses to them from officials must be made after being educated ...  the concepts of legal graffiti art require STRONG leadership.. not people .. most often politicians ... who talk out of 2 sides of their mouths.. and have alternative agendas...  ... education usually helps... my experience is that the people with perspectives like Mr. X don't take the time necessary to understand....  you can't solve the problem if you are not talking to people causing the problem .. we must be inclusive ... not exclusive....
 
take a listen to what KRS-ONE says ...  he is very respected in the graffiti artist community .. and talks a lot of sense... but Mr. X probably doesn't know who he is.. and doesn't care to know... a mindset much similar to the illegal taggers.. who have no interest in Mr. X's perspective...  that is where people like KeepSix Collective have value, purpose and vision .. as they are the bridge to the eternal gap....  and should be funded, supported, and celebrated extensively....  NEVER change your name...
 
Scott
 
PS.
check this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiNkO8LzwGQ  of a couple of 'throw away' kid taggers .. who are being honoured in front of federal, provincial and municipal politicians..as well as an elite professional artist community at a book launch for the Six String Nation Guitar..... yes.... the Royal Canadian Mint has a coin for the guitar.....
 
..... listen closely to the ''' AWWWW""" in the room when the art work is unveiled...  the artists are 2 kids .. who can't get into college ... cause of their low marks...  and one kid who states he would be in a gang selling drugs if it were not for legal graffiti art ....  so...why do people like Jowi Taylor of http://SixStringNAtion.com have no funding ????  and struggle daily to survive ???   ... why do these kids struggle day in and day out to feed themselves ??..... because the Mr. 's of the world don't 'get it' .......   so ... let's educate.... and educate... and educate.....
 
Feel free to send this to all the alleged graffiti vandals and Mr. X.. word for word.......
 
Keepsix response to St. Joseph Mural complaint (I also sent the customer a copy of all the responses to the Richmond Rd complaint, along with Mr X's words.)

He has made similar accusations about Mike Gall and myself and our friends – never directly to us of course. He complained about the Jack Purcell pool wall, and then about a wall done with Ottawa Hydro on a Richmond road building. He included the Hydro contact and Maria Keen, the Community Police officer there.

I will forward separately to you our response to that complaint. There is also a supportive note in that email from Const. Nathan Hoedeman as well Const Scott Mills in Toronto. Scott has been running a successful program like this for several years, I have worked with him for several years and am trying to start a similar program in Ottawa. He has links to several interviews he has done on this.

We are trying to encourage murals as a way to involve youth more in improving their communities, and reinforce positive behaviour. Some of them have been taggers, and may even occasionally still do that – we support the graffiti culture, as an art form and an element of hip-hop culture. We do not support vandalism, in any form. These youth are still our friends. Change takes time, this approach does work. We believe in their potential and are working hard to help them develop.

I think we can choose to complain about life, or we can consume it passively, or we can be an agent of change. Sometimes in a small way, but we can all effect change.

We are gaining support from many areas, but there are still some naysayers that are convinced this will not work.

Thank you to you and to your board for supporting this initiative.

If there are more questions please contact us.

Sketch Orleans response to St. Joseph mural complaint

Dear Council Members, Community Leaders, Business Improvement Areas, Mr. X,

Graffiti art VS. graffiti vandalism in Ottawa has been a very hot issue for the past few years.  It seems to come back every year around Spring-Summer time. 

I am writing to you in order to set the record straight for the Orléans Youth Resource Centre, operating as SKETCH Orléans -  a local non-profit community organization with the mandate to “involve and empower Orléans area high school youth in the realization of social, cultural and recreational initiatives.” 

Firstly, I encourage you to contact us if you have any concerns with some of our activities.  We strive to be as open, inclusive and collaborative as possible with both youth and the community as a whole.  We seek positive solutions in order to address some of the youth issues in our community.  Furthermore, we seek to involve youth in the development of our/their community.  This is no easy task so we are open to constructive suggestions and positive ideas.  We are willing to sit down with any group that has a problem or issue and work collaboratively towards a community AND youth based solution.

With that said, I wish to respond directly to Mr. X's comments on the graffiti issue.  I will have more to say at the end of this message.…

- With this behavioural trend in mind, some things you should know so that you and your communities aren’t taken advantage of, embarrassed, or exploited by graffiti vandals presenting themselves as legal mural painters.

Mr. X talks about being “taken advantage of, embarrassed, or exploited by graffiti vandals”.  In our case, when we worked on the Orléans Auto Tech mural, a private initiative requested by the business owner on his private property, we talked about involving youth at risk in a supervised activity, with permission and for positive results to the community.  Please know that nobody was embarrassed nor exploited.
 

The function of an art mural is to beautify and enrich a community.  An art mural becomes the face of a community.  Mural content should have community in mind…as it infringes on “air rights” and, like advertising billboards, could create visual sprawl that may negatively impact residents and communities…or may offend local property owners who have been fighting graffiti vandalism attacks against their properties.
In our case, this has always been done in collaboration with the property owner, Mr. Copeland from the Orléans Auto Tech.  In this case, the mural WAS his effort to fight graffiti vandalism – and it worked, as it is often the case in many other cities!  SKETCH Orléans even prepared a Graffiti Art Day in order to raise awareness to the issue and the proposed activity in the community.
 

- Art murals do not curb vandalism

It worked at the Orléans Auto Tech and the 174 sound barrier, both of which are still tag free since 2008.

- If you wish to curb vandalism on a surface do not put up an art mural. The most cost effective and successful remedy for vandalism is to repaint the surface…and maintain it rigorously immediately after. Graffiti vandals choose surfaces for their visibility and the lack of maintenance/care to the area (in order to maximize the effect of their paint and effort). Maintaining a previously vandalized surface that has been newly repainted will wean vandals off of that surface.

I encourage Mr. X to talk to business owners, such as Mr. Copeland, to see what they think of this solution… I believe that murals are much more cost-effective in the long run than constantly repainting the same surface.  Murals also have other positive impacts such as enabling youth involvement in community development.

- Vandalism may be immediately curbed on a specific surface by installing a mural wall, but typically this will end up drawing and redirected vandalism onto adjacent properties, turning your problem into the problems of your neighbours

Since the beginning of Gatineau’s graffiti prevention initiatives, back in 2001, they have seen a 70% decrease in graffiti-related complaints.  (Source: Commission jeunesse de Gatineau, www.cjgatineau.ca, Contact person: [email protected], 819 243-2345 poste 2418. 

Gatineau has 50 legal graffiti walls spread out in 29 sites in the community and they have not run into this problem.  http://www.ville.gatineau.qc.ca/page.asp?a=culture&c=en-CA&p=quoi_faire/murs_graffitis_autorises   

Note: the Orléans Auto Tech mural has not been vandalized since it was done in the summer of 2008.  The business owner’s graffiti problem has been solved with the mural.
 

- If the mural is put up by “Graffiti Mural” artists, the mural may be supporting active vandals with financing, excess paint supplies for future acts of vandalism, and recognition/visibility/acclaim

Unfortunately, I am certain that graffiti artists can find and buy their own paint supplies without the “support” of mural clients.  Nonetheless, I agree that owners could keep the excess paint instead of returning it to the artists… This however might cause a new problem which I talk about further below…

- If the mural is put up by “Graffiti Mural” artists, the mural may include the graffiti tags of vandals and raise their visibility and profile. Ensure that you put thought/control into the content of a graffiti-style mural…and make it community-oriented and meaningful

Content is always approved by the owner – it was in our case at the Orléans Auto Tech.  Artists were allowed to sign their art work in their own way.

- If the mural is put up by “Graffiti Mural” artists, the mural may draw fans of graffiti to the area to admire the mural…and they may choose to leave their own vandalism marks nearby out of inspiration/homage to their graffiti idols


Quote: “They may choose to leave their own vandalism marks…”  Well, they also may choose not too!  So far I have not seen this happen at the Orléans Auto Tech mural…I have also never heard youth talk of their “graffiti idols”…

- Using graffiti mural opportunities as a means of rehabilitating graffiti vandals and reintroducing them into our community can promote a business model where young vandals are presented with a toxic example of success. This example encourages them to continue building their skills via acts of vandalism, in the hope of one day becoming paid mural artists like their vandal idols. If you are going to select artists, reward artists who have chosen to work within the system…not against it. They will respect your property and the property of others, both during and after they have finished your mural.

What about youth who are not “in the system”… how would you bring them back in the system?  How else would you do skill development with them?  What if you could use their illegal hobbies to train them to use them for something positive, maybe even “bringing them back in the system”.

There are two sides to the coin: A toxic example of success might actually turn into a life-changing success story for a young future entrepreneur.  I believe youth deserve that chance.  See KeepSix’s mission: www.keepsix.com/collective

-If the mural is put up by “Graffiti Mural” artists, they may take the opportunity of being in the area to scout out interesting locations to put up graffiti, and vandalize the surrounding area after their work day is done (as they make their way to/from the site)

“They may take the opportunity…”  They also might not… This is not fact based.  This comment seems to be meant to inspire fear.  I could come up with many other positive “what ifs”.  For example: What if young artists appreciate the time they had to paint a mural with permission and stress-free so much that they get tired of doing it illegally and actually take a step down the right path… Sure, some have not “kicked the habit” yet, but there are some graffiti artists who have.  Mike Mesa is a wonderful example and I applaud his hard work.

- When selecting artists to put up a mural wall…consider the following:  Select a professional and legitimate mural painter (it may be more expensive but you will not be supporting graffiti vandals or drawing additional vandalism to your community)

We have the mandate to involve local youth and provide them with positive and rewarding experiences.  We involve local youth in community development. 

- If someone if offering to paint your mural for cost or for supplies…it’s probably too good to be true. They may have their own agenda…and use the opportunity you present to further it.

How else do emerging artists build a portfolio?  All artists need a portfolio to make it in their industry, to develop their career.  What could be on their secret agenda that is so bad?  This comment is not fact based and only inspires fear and ignorance.  However, it also implies that artists are approaching businesses to see if they are interested in a mural.  Hence, the artists are offering local businesses a solution to a common issue.  This is a good thing.  Let’s not be afraid of positive and new solutions to a common issue.

- Create your own Do It Yourself (DIY) painting team by enlisting the involvement of your local community (children, artists, community leaders). You’ll build stronger bonds in your community, create a team building exercise, and involve/invest community interest into the care and maintenance of your community and the mural surface

That is precisely what we did at the Orléans Auto Tech mural.  We connected local young artists with a local business owner.  The owner requested a “professional” mural – a very nice and colorful one…  Considering that graffiti is a valid art form, we thought it best to hire artists in order to meet the owner’s request.  In order to fulfill our own mandate, we thought it would be good to get local youth and to facilitate the relation with the business owner.  We even organized a graffiti art day (GART) to raise awareness in the community and to facilitate dialogue between young artists and the business owner.

The original highway 174 mural, with cartoon butterflies and flowers, was done in the way Mr. Rizzo is suggesting.  Result: it was very nice but it was also mocked by many for being too childish and amateur.  Hence, it got vandalized.  If we want a mural to portray the image of our community, it must be a professional mural that makes us proud.  Cartoons and flowers did not make teenage youth proud of Orléans and in the end, the mural got a makeover with Mike Mesa and other artists.  Note that I agree that the original mural was a good initiative, I just think the mural is better the way it is now than the way it was before.  It has also not been vandalized since its graffiti makeover, apart from one early incident where the graffiti community publicly condoned the unfortunate act and came out to clean it up. 

- If using “Graffiti Artists”, know who you are dealing with. Review IDs, request criminal record checks, and collect information on who will be painting your mural (and be present during the painting to ensure the same “artists” are actually doing the work and not being substituted) in order to weed out vandals/criminals

We have not come into a situation where artists were substituted.  I am starting to assume that Mr. X does not work with youth at risk.  By his standard, all ex-convicts, even if rehabilitated, should not be allowed to work.  This is not constructive for our society, nor is it for youth at risk who wish to turn their life around.  SKETCH Orléans believes that youth deserve a chance to do something good for their community and need various opportunities to do so. 

- Set some conditions/guidelines on what expectations you have from the artists following the completion of the mural…for instance that they do not engage in future vandalisms and inform them that their actions now represent you and your community

This is a good idea but it is impossible to follow-up with the artists.  Unfortunately, it is not realistic.

- Set some repercussions for breaking the guidelines you set….for instance, that their tags be removed from the mural…and that they will not be trusted with involvement in future mural initiatives

It will be very hard to judge if the set guidelines were broken… ie. You can accuse the artist of tagging another property after he/she completed a mural.  The artist could respond that it was not him/her or that it was already there… Innocent until proven guilty is the way we work in our society. 

Personally, I believe that this negative consequence will push at risk youth even further away from “the system”.  Any where you work with youth, it is all about positive reinforcement – not negative put downs.  Having positive consequences will reinforce a positive activity done in a proper way – with permission, supervision and professionalism.  We should work with youth, not against them.
 
- Keep/recycle any leftover paint used by graffiti artists so that it does not end up being used to vandalize properties in Ottawa/your community

I agree.  This is a good idea.  However, this means that we will be stuck with graffiti spray paint cans… What else could we do with leftover paint other than offer more graffiti activities in order to get rid of leftovers.  And the cycle will then continue… If, and I emphasize the “if”, we are to do more graffiti activities, as this is not specifically our mandate, then it is clear that a strong education and awareness-raising component should be present.

- Play a role is selecting/directing the theme/content of your mural. Have a design produced in advance by the mural artists…and review/approve it. Don’t give a graffiti mural artist carte-blanche to paint your wall. They will use the opportunity to incorporate their graffiti tags into the mural design out of selfishness

All artists sign their work somehow.  It is not done out of selfishness, but rather for recognition and respect.  Ministers and Bureaucrats sign their reports; Academics and Scientifics sign their research papers and articles; Accountants sign their reports; I will sign this email; Artists sign their artwork; Graffiti artists sign their murals in their own way.  As far as I know, a design is always produced and approved.  It was done so at the Orléans Auto Tech.

- Involve local residents/businesses/communities in the design and planning of the mural. Don’t surprise them with graffiti-based murals when they may have had their own negative personal experiences combatting vandalism. Use the opportunity to build community bonds and create dialog.

In the case of the Orléans Auto Tech mural, it was the owner’s initiative and request to have a graffiti mural.  SKETCH and CAVE helped the owner in realizing his wish.  The owner is very pleased with the result and was involved in its realization since the beginning.  It is a perfect example of collaboration between non-profit community groups, a local business and local youth.  The actual objective was to “build community bonds and create dialogue”.  The objectives were met.  The wall is much nicer with a mural than without.
 

Also, the mural was definitely not a surprise.  We organized a “Graffiti Art Day”, GART, last year before the realization of the Orléans Auto Tech mural.  The activity was announced in local papers in order to raise awareness to the issue so as not to surprise the community.  It also created a dialogue between young graffiti artists and a local entrepreneur.  Both parties were able to meet, talk, share their concerns and agree on a design for the mural.
 

If Mr. X is serious about building community bonds and creating dialogue, I would be happy to facilitate a meeting with him and local Orléans youth to discuss the graffiti issue.  I could also invite Mike Young, Mike Mesa and some graffiti artists.  Both sides could share their opinions and concerns in a professional and respectful way, hopefully come to a consensus on solutions and then we could all move forward on this.  My contact information is at the end of this message.
 

- Some “Graffiti Mural” teams/advocates to stay away from:

Again, I would be happy to meet with Mr. X to hear his concerns.  Communication is very important at all levels of our society and I do sincerely wish to find solutions to some of the youth issues in the Orléans community.  If Mr. X or anybody else has any positive ideas, constructive suggestions, or even legitimate concerns about some of our activities, I encourage them to let us know so that we may come up with a solution.  I think we all agree that it is important to involve youth in the community.  So let’s find the best way of doing so… so far, we have had nothing but positive responses and feedback from youth.  Personally, up until today, I had not heard any negative feedback on the Orléans Auto Tech mural.

SKETCH is an innovative, young new organization with the mission to involve and empower Orléans area high school youth to realize social, cultural and recreational initiatives.  We have a volunteer Board of directors from the community as well as a bilingual youth committee composed of 11 local teenagers coming from 8 different local high schools.    I am not surprised that some people are uncomfortable with some of our new and innovative activities.  However, we would not be as successful as we have been so far in our development with youth if we had always “stayed in the box”.  Our mandate is for youth and so far, from my experience and discussions with them, they approve and support what we do.  However, I appreciate Mr. Rizzo’s concerns and feedback and will definitely keep it in mind if we do any other future graffiti-related activities. 

I would also like to point out that the vast majority of youth, not to say all of them, who I have spoken to truly appreciate the mural on Orléans Auto Tech.  They find it beautiful!  The owner of Orléans Auto Tech, Mr. Copeland, is the one who initiated and requested a graffiti mural on his own private property.  A sample drawing was done before hand by the artists and approved by the business owner.  The mural has not been vandalized since.  According to Mr. X, the best solution to graffiti vandalism is to repaint the area and keep it clean.  Mr. Copeland tried that for a long time, at a very high cost, and did not get any results… If you ask him, the bylaw has not solved his vandalism problem; the solution was the graffiti mural, as it has also proven to be in many other Canadian cities with graffiti mural programs such as Gatineau, Toronto and St John’s. 

Please see the attachments for before and after pictures of the Orléans Auto Tech Wall.  We have also included in attachment the plaque that was put on the mural to commemorate the moment. 

Finally, I encourage all to take the time to read Mike Young’s graffiti blog where he presents both sides of the picture.  There are also many links and statements that highlight the positive impacts that graffiti murals have had on communities, and especially on youth.
 

I have been collecting his (Mr. X) messages and my responses online in a long blog post.

This is the link to the “con” side

http://www.ravensview.ca/ravens/2009/06/artists-or-vandals.html
 

And this is our link to the “pro”

http://www.ravensview.ca/ravens/2009/07/graffiti-murals-a-positive-spin.html


Blog and pics - www.ravensview.ca

Street art murals - www.keepsix.com/collective

Please contact Mike Young if any questions or comments about his blog, [email protected].  Mike Young and KeepSix’s views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Orléans Youth Resource Centre.


Sincerely and with best wishes,


André Brisebois
Directeur général / Executive Director
SKETCH Orléans
Centre de ressources des jeunes d'Orléans /
Orléans Youth Resource Centre
211-210 boul. Centrum blvd.
Orléans, Ontario K1E 3V7
-----------------------------
T: 613.830.4357 (x247)
F: 613.830.4196
***mercredi à vendredi seulement
Wednesday to Friday only***
[email protected]
www.sketchorleans.com



 

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