The article on Bill Lelievre’s act of painting the Medical Arts building last month implies that there is a link between a youth’s perception of safety and the presence of graffiti. Perhaps one may find words and images scrawled on walls unsightly, but inferring that there is a correlation between graffiti and danger indicates a lack of understanding of graffiti and street art culture.
Graffiti is often an expression of resistance. Resistance to the structures, institutions and ideologies that often govern our lives. Resistance to the increasing segregation and control of urban public space. Considering this, it can be argued that graffiti does not contribute to the supposed demise of our beloved downtown, but is a symptom of current political and social issues that affect all individuals. Graffiti is often the voice of the marginalized: the youth, the homeless, the racialized other. When we erase the expression of the marginalized we devalue them as individuals and as parts of our community.
Humans have painted on walls since time immemorial and this will not change through bylaws or citizen funded or municipally funded buffing initiatives. True beautification can come through graffiti, street art and murals. There is a passionate group of graffiti artists in this town that have tried for many years to instate large scale mural projects, similar to the Lakeside piece, through the city’s Cultural Development Committee. These proposals have been rejected, delayed or buried in bureaucratic red tape. To clarify: some of the best graffiti artists and muralists in this city have offered to paint some of the most often tagged public spaces, for free or low cost, only to be met with barriers and excuses. A request for a small legal wall where inspiring artists could practise their craft was also unfruitful. Both of the above mentioned initiatives are proven methods of minimizing graffiti on private space.
Considering the current socio-political climate and the lack of contemporary public art in Nelson I neither imagine nor wish that resistance of all kinds, by all peoples, is something that will be going away any time soon.