Scanlan’s lane, the new laneway between Duckworth and Water Street demonstrates two drastically different approaches to graffiti: On the one side there are two painted murals on privately owned buildings that have little to no tagging on them. On the other side the grey city-owned staircase has a constantly growing collection of tags and hasty graffiti, and the city hires private contractors to periodically pressure-wash it off. So far this year the wall has been cleaned three times at a total cost of $6,500. This comes out of the Parks Division’s cleaning budget. (Meanwhile, the colourful side of the lane was featured prominently in a recent promotional video put together by Destination St. John’s.)
Doesn’t this seem a little weird?
Kyle Bustin thinks so. He’s one of the artists behind the Coloured Box Project, an activist art project that’s been going on through the summer here in the city. Inspired by Open Walls Baltimore, a curated exhibit of giant street art on the walls of buildings in that city’s downtown, the first phase of Coloured Box was to bring wheatpastes (printed, painted, or drawn work which is pasted on walls using a flour and water mixture) from across Canada, the US, and Europe and install them around St. John’s.
“We wanted [...] to brighten up where people pass by every day,” says Bustin.
As it stands now, the city has two designated free-walls for graffiti, places anyone can legally paint. One is on Carter’s Hill Place and the other is discretely tucked away on the other side of the off-ramp from the Harbour Arterial. Bustin says free-walls are important to give people an opportunity to practice and make murals, instead of just tagging.
“If they don’t have a free-wall, all they’ll do is quick things that they won’t get caught doing.”
But you don’t have to go to Baltimore to find examples of positive approaches to graffiti: Mount Pearl has been hosting graffiti jams since 2008.
“We see it as a progressive way to provide street artists with a place to legally show their creativity and express themselves,” says Jason Collins, Director of Mount Pearl’s Community Services Department.
The most recent Mount Pearl Graffiti Jam was held on August 11th and helped decorate the construction wall at the new Pearlgate Multiplex. More than 35 artists participated and the event was sponsored by local businesses.
So come on St. John’s, let’s take a lesson from Baltimore and Mount Pearl and spend some of the thousands of dollars we’re using to clean graffiti off the walls on painting them instead. Maybe we could have saved a bunch of money on cleaning off City Hall itself. The bunker on New Gower would be a hell of a free-wall.
You can watch the Destination St. John’s promo video here.
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