In the last couple months, there has been an awareness of a
growing graffiti problem within our community. Such unsightly vandalism puts at risk all forms of public art as well as contributes little to the aesthetic of the neighborhoods they are found in, yet, there are those who maintain that an artistic freedom of expression in public spaces may be put at risk by being lumped in with random vandalism. Current means of combatting this vandalism in our city are without “efficient mechanisms” for removal and may result in costly removal of which a budget will need to be established and maintained. Such budgets can restrict other funding for public arts projects, such as our murals, which some are in a sad state and require maintenance and protection. These murals in disrepair make it harder for an art scene to become established in Welland, as it conveys a message to outsiders that our community may not be able to maintain large-scale art projects or does not take such public arts displays seriously, as well as reduce the aesthetics of neighborhoods.
I have been looking at legal, open walls, as well as commissioned one time pieces, similar to our murals, and it is my belief that both are important elements in an effective graffiti management program, as well raise the social value of public art in our community.
Commissioned pieces, such as the former Festival of Arts murals in Welland, entail working with artists frequenting the legal walls to cover trouble spots with colourful and creative murals. This approach helps in providing short term employment and assists in the long term development of a positive work ethic and personal skills such as project conceptualization and follow through. So long as there is proper maintenance ensured beyond the short-term, and longevity and legacy issues addresses (such as public art protection bylaws, and a responsible budget ensured for the maintenance of such public art pieces over the long term), these commissions can continue to be an effective means of public arts display, creating an attraction, and creating an identifiable community and neighborhood. The drawbacks to this approach in this community is maintaining a budget to ensure maintenance, the restrictive process of a municipally-sanctioned cultural project, and the continued assurance of physical maintenance of artwork to maintain the legacy of such commissions.
Legal walls, on the other hand, provide an area for young, creative artists to express themselves freely, in the true spirit of graffiti art, with minimal rules and the acknowledgement that their pieces will be temporary, soon be replaced by another artists’ work. Despite the volume of use that some of these areas receive, careful site planning can minimize any issues of “bleeding” to other structures. In addition, it is often found that the quality of work at these legal walls is significant, as youth are given the opportunity to work on their creations in a worry-free environment. The benefits to such an approach is that there is no need for a budget procured through public or municipal funding, it is self-policed, and it is always maintained as it is temporary in nature as artwork may eventually be “replaced” by new artwork. It merely needs the express permission from wall owners, the assurance that municipal bylaws or enforcements are not applicable to these walls (read as: bylaw officers or police recognize this as a sanctioned area for graffiti), and the artists will create artwork of its own volition on its own dime. This approach can replace the thrill of illegality and recognition within a relatively small underground community with the positive feedback of public recognition by other artists, as well as community at large, and provide opportunities for youth to develop as artists.
The benefits to this approach include reduction in tagging, community beautification, youth engagement and employment, and dialogue between city officials, business and private land owners, and youth. “Graduates” of the program have gone on to art school or to pursue careers in the field of art, occasionally working to establish other legal painting areas. This approach has been initiated and in place in communities such as Gatineau and Toronto. This interesting urban approach to public art is a refreshing change to the current venues of public arts in our community.
Mostly, I see the benefits of creating designated graffiti spaces as having the benefit of creating another form of community space, especially one that is youth-oriented; it is vibrant and eclectic; and with the potential of an ever-changing art display that continues to maintain itself, while creating a legal outlet for what may have otherwise an illegal act while nurturing artistic ability and expression in a supportive community atmosphere.