The beauty of art lies in the eye of the beholder. Certain expressionism isn’t pretty to some, a debatable art form or, in some cases, a criminal act – especially when it’s street art, also known as graffiti.
So when graffiti becomes vandalism, how can communities counter the defacement of private and public lands?
After the ongoing spate of spray painting on Trail properties, the local youth centre and a West Kootenay artist aren’t turning a blind eye to the illegal practise. In fact they are facing it head on and teaching ways the community’s young members can express themselves with aerosol paint at the right time and in the right place.
Two mural projects are currently underway in both Trail and Salmo for youth aged 13 to 18, offering planning sessions for the design and execution of a graffiti piece that will showcase what the community represents through the vision of a teenager.
“Right now we are brainstorming ideas and getting the juices flowing,” says Coleman Webb, a Nelson-based career artist who’s helped various organizations come up with creative solutions to graffiti that support youth. “Typically my workshops are self motivated. Some kids show up without planning to be involved but will eventually become key players in the project.”
He said by allowing self-motivation, the sense of ownership to the art piece grows and a sense of pride develops by project completion.
“I have found there are lots of kids eager to get involved but if they don’t want to participate, I encourage them to try or suggest they get involved in another way, such as photography, publicity or prep work.”
The second planning session is slated today (Wednesday) from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Columbia Youth Community Development Centre (YCDC) located across from Safeway. Painting of the Trail mural is scheduled for Sept. 5, Sept. 6 and Sept. 13 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
The final design will be spray painted on three wooden panels then installed on the outside wall of YCDC’s new locale. The project is twofold – besides highlighting youthful talent, the mural will draw attention to the space which is currently nondescript in the block of East Trail brick buildings.
In Salmo, planning times are scheduled at the Salmo Youth Centre on July 28 and July 30 from 4 to 7 p.m., with the mural being painted on the back of the building Aug. 29, Aug. 30 and Sept. 12 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
For information and to become part of the mural project, contact Webb at 250.509.0998 or visit colemanwebb.ca.
Graffiti may often express underlying social and political messages and a whole genre of artistic expression, like hip hop culture and b-boying, is based upon spray paint graffiti styles.
So the mural project is much more than teaching the art form to local youth, says Webb.
“Most youth I have met with and talked to who are interested in graffiti have expressed that they have no place to do their art, legally,” he explained.
“They have an urge to be creative on a large scale and want their work to be public and their voice be heard.”
Feeling pent up and suppressed, Coleman suggests youth may turn to illicit graffiti in the streets to create their “artwork.”
He concedes not everyone classifies the urban display as “art”, but says not dealing with the vandalism is a missed opportunity for creative problem-solving.
“I think what is missed is addressing the youth’s needs as members of society,” Webb explained.
“They do have a voice and very specific needs and given the right opportunity and support, they can develop, blossom and grow constructively.”
Other advice he offers, is for those trying to understand graffiti or stop it. Webb says youth who tagged a city wall or business probably didn’t do it to hurt or attack anyone personally.
“They probably did it because they are growing up in a pretty scary society that they believe doesn’t care about them or their needs,” he continued. “They are probably just saying, ‘hey look at me, I matter,’ or something along those lines.”
Webb added most youth just want an opportunity to paint using freedom of expression.
“By teaching youth about respect and discussing respect for each others space and property, we can come up with solutions for graffiti,” he said.
“This can be addressed by talking about violations of personal property, how it felt to them and how it may feel to someone else. By personifying the offence, the youth may look at vandalism in a different light.”