Save legal graffiti walls – The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Monday, May 21, 2007 (see link below)
The city is considering phasing out legal graffiti walls. That would make Ottawa duller, greyer and no less vulnerable to vandalism.
There are two established, well-used legal walls in Ottawa: one underneath the Dunbar Bridge on Bronson Avenue near Carleton University, and the other at the Ottawa Technical High School site in Centretown.
One of the arguments for such walls is the flypaper theory: by giving kids with spraycans a legal outlet, they deter vandalism elsewhere. This theory has been proven wrong, at least in Ottawa.
That isn’t surprising. Graffiti can be split into two categories: tagging and art. Tagging consists of ugly, repetitive signatures. It’s property damage. It’s done because it’s illegal. As city staff point out in a recent report: “Graffiti vandals typically see themselves as anti-establishment agents, do not respect the law and do not want to work on graffiti legally.”
Then staff makes a leap in logic, assuming that since the the legal wall hasn’t decreased tagging in the surrounding area, it must be encouraging tagging.
That simply doesn’t make sense. If taggers have no desire to colour within the lines, the existence of a legal wall should have no effect on their behaviour. If they tag a legal wall, it’s out of ignorance or to destroy someone else’s art.
There are, though, graffiti artists for whom legal walls are the perfect medium. While they aren’t taggers, they do itch to express themselves in some public form. And they are — just a little — anti-establishment. They are not seeking the rush that comes with getting away with vandalism, but neither are they keen to do a mural of sunshine and flowers commissioned by the local business improvement area.
The Tech Wall in Centretown is a bright spot in a dull area. If tagging in the neighbourhood has been increasing, it’s hard to pin that on the Tech Wall. Indeed, the staff report gives several possible reasons for the increase in reported graffiti (even climate change is on the list). Washing off the Tech Wall would be a hasty and mean-spirited reaction to the graffiti problem — much like the city’s foolish erasure of children’s hopscotch markings in the Glebe.
If city staff gets its way, removal of the two legal walls will be one element of the city’s updated graffiti management strategy.
The city committee that dealt with the report decided to monitor the two walls for a year before deciding their fate. In any event, it seems unlikely the city will approve any new legal walls soon.
This is a shame. There are many reasons to support legal walls beyond the flawed flypaper theory.
The staff report contains the prim and inflexible statement: “Graffiti is not art.” The large and complex “masterpieces” some graffiti artists create rival the abstract compositions hanging in galleries. And even when they don’t, they’re respite for the tired eyes of bus commuters.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2007 http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/editorials/story.html?id=bc87861c-3913-4fac-8b27-4eba38bce03e