Editorial: City hall’s short-sighted graffiti gaffe

By Jordyn Marcellus

The City of Calgary takes a hard-line stance against graffiti. On at least four different web pages, the City declares that it is “a crime that affects everybody” and that it ruins the “natural and architectural beauty of a city.” So, when a project was announced to offer young artists the chance to tag Shaw Millennium Park, it seemed Calgary was getting interested in helping to promote a vital part of youth culture.

Two days later, they shut it down when graffiti was sprayed everywhere, not just on the designated space. People reacted, stupidly, by completely vandalizing Millennium Park, costing the city an estimated $60-80,000 in clean-up fees. What’s more, the vandals — and that is what they are, vandals — used incredibly disparaging racial and sexual epithets in anger over the closing of the project.

This “payback vandalism” was, simply put, the fault of all the stakeholders. The City needed to think this through a little bit better — instead of making Dave Brunning (a.k.a TheKidBelo) the sole person responsible for oversight of the project. They also shouldn’t have immediately reacted by cancelling the project only two days into its implementation. Skaters and graffiti artists are a group of youths who believe themselves to be persecuted by “the man,” and the closing was obviously going to be seen as “the man” trying to get back at them.

Secondly, fault for the program’s shutdown belongs to the program’s participants. They were the ones who initially felt they were allowed to tag everything and not follow a very simple rule — keep it to the designated area. If they had just followed that guideline the City may have decided to keep the program going longer, offering new spaces up for art graffiti.

Instead, with the vandalism of Millennium Park, city hall and the public will only believe, wrongly, that there is no point in even offering youth additional spaces to try their wares. Graffiti art has been set back by this vandalism, with images of John Mar standing in the ugly, graffiti-laden bathrooms in Millennium Park etched into people’s minds.

These images associate the art-form as childish vandalism, something future artists who attempt to mainstream graffiti art in Calgary will have to deal with head on. Sadly, mainstreaming graffiti will probably take even longer in Calgary now. All thanks to a city that didn’t want to follow through on a project that had some hiccups to start off with and a group of youths who reacted far too extremely for their own good.