I sent the following as a letter to many of my contacts in Ottawa, as well as Toronto and Montreal - artists, BIA/s, police, councillors, youth groups. Feedback from several of them is the same. Many years of opposition and indifference from the conservative Ottawa "establishment" drove out the developing artists that were ready to get more serious about their work and dedicate more time and focus on it, take a more business-like approach. Maybe with time two or three will emerge from the current artists to take over this role again. Has to come from them, we can't force it.
Feel free to offer comments or suggestions.
Sad to say, I'm losing my confidence in and enthusiasm for the experienced graffiti artists in Ottawa.
I've cc'd a lot of people on this, because I think "we" have a problem. Maybe someone has a solution.
Just to be clear, I've nothing against the local artists personally, you're all a bunch of great people, with a lot of talent between you, and many good ideas. And good intentions. However, I don't think enough of you are motivated yet to get serious about "graff for money" on an extended basis, it's still seen as a short term focus. I'm not sure what it would take to create that motivation. I'm glad to have been able to volunteer my time to pursue this as a passion, and we have had some successes, but the passion is fading. Ottawa has potential, but at this point I'm at a loss on how to develop that potential - 2-3 keeners are not enough to get this rolling.
Over the summer we did manage to get several murals done, but I felt I had to do too much nagging and reminding - artists kept telling me how much they wanted to do murals and how much they appreciated my help, but they still didn't show evidence of being consistently professional, more business-like, of accepting accountability. Customers, city staff, councillors, community police, arts groups, the media, students doing a term paper - all contact me looking for information and links to artists, and help in managing the project for them. So I would find some contacts, and maybe a mural would get started, but since I'm the first contact I'm the one that looks bad when all the excuses start - artists don't show up, don't check messages or emails, can't coordinate their own efforts. And more importantly, the local artists and the concept of graffiti murals in Ottawa looks bad as well. My concern is that people will dismiss the local community as undependable and start looking for other choices, such as school groups, or "professional" artists.
I realize some just want to do their art, to work alone, to only do pieces, to not be seen as "legal". I'm fine with that choice, but there is also the potential for more here, if anyone wants it.
Besides working with businesses directly, there could be many opportunities with the City this year. They are starting up two mural programs now I believe - the one in Graffiti Management targeting at risk areas, and a more general one via the Signage people. I'm still not convinced that city staff takes the External Management committee seriously, and the focus still is on historical "art" murals, but maybe some persuasive youth can change their minds. But again, this needs a group of artists that can be depended upon for the programs.
The latest issue for me was with a NCC project for Winterlude. I was contacted by them before Christmas about helping them find artists to paint panels for display outside, with free paint, and about hiring some to act as mentors for other groups. I contacted my usual mailing list, there was interest from a couple of artists, a suggestion of tentative interest from others, but nothing firm enough for me to want to take it further and make any commitments.
As I'd tried to point out, this was not only a short term opportunity to do some art, but also a chance to show it off at a public event, to mentor in schools, to make contacts with more youth as well as art teachers in the schools, and to hopefully establish a long term link with the NCC for other events throughout the year.
The coordinator for the NCC project knows my daughter well (Katherine used to work for her) and was eager to talk more with me about this and future projects. But I don't feel there are enough local artists that are dependable enough for this, so rather than set up a program with the NCC and have no one come, I told the coordinator I would not willing to commit to anything at this time.
I'm not looking for excuses, sorry but I've heard lots of those.
I'm also not looking for more thanks -I already know that's there.
My hope is that some day the graff artist community in Ottawa matures enough to want to move to the next level, to seek to be more business-like. There are a few that show potential, but not consistently, and that's not enough to depend on for what could happen here. We've already had the talk and general assurances, there needs to be a commitment to some clear expectations and consequences, and even some artists willing to assume a role of leadership.
Leadership not just in heading up a crew of their friends, but leadership in the sense of encouraging others to develop also, and putting in the time and effort for some long term goals.
For this to succeed though, I believe there need to be clear expectations and commitments from all - and some agreed to consequences if these are not met.
Hopefully I can be involved too. In the meantime, do keep me in the loop on any new work that's done, I'll be there with camera and some coffees.