by Carolyn Ciccoritti of Carleton Place
A mural is wall art, most often a commissioned work. Graffiti is wall art, executed without permission and almost always under cover—it is, after all, a criminal offence. We are clear on the distinction between the two. What is less simple to wade through is how we “tag” those creating the uninvited art and, more importantly, how we manage their expressive tendencies.
Generally speaking, graffiti is the hallmark of youth looking for a public voice. Kids who otherwise may feel impotent. They are social activists and rabble-rousers; some simply lack a canvas large enough to hold the full extent of their commentary, while others just want to be seen. Many are what would be termed youth-at-risk. They are, all of them, vandals. But are they truly criminals?
The push is on in Carleton Place and Mississippi Mills to rid our communities of graffiti and to crack down on the perpetrators. I am of two minds regarding “Operation Goodbye Graffiti”. While I understand the need to protect private property from destructive acts I admit to feeling a great sorrow at the thought of losing some of the street-art I have come to appreciate. In particular, the vast concrete underpasses which have been animated with colour and movement—always more interesting to look at than sterile cement.
I wonder if the two communities can continue this clean-up initiative with the OPP, but add a new component: providing hemmed-in youth with regular spaces on which to test out their political beliefs, write the lyrics to a favourite tune, lament their unrequited love, or just say they were here. Sanctioned walls, if you will. Hold contests to determine who gets to let lose with the spray cans. Have the young artists help write the rules. Nothing harmful to others, no pornography or offensive language, seems a good place to start. After a pre-determined period of time, ensure that the kids themselves form the clean-up crew for the next group of inspired painters.
This would be a huge undertaking, requiring the cooperation of various community groups, business people, and concerned politicians. But I believe we can make it happen. If we all invest a little time and energy into the project we can continue to enjoy these organic expressions (albeit in a more managed form) while contributing to the mental and creative well-being of local youth. Who knows, soon local businesses could be vying to offer-up their bricks for beautification!