Scrawls on Walls - a Look at the Bigger Picture of Street Art vs. Graffiti

By Sarah Goldrup

(All photos in this article taken in July 2015 by Sarah Goldrup.)

With spaces in Downtown Guelph being tagged and vandalized, many with explicit imagery, the issue of graffiti in Guelph seems to be a hot topic around town. Guelph is no stranger to graffiti and vandalism, and we were not the first to notice that it is difficult to find full studies on the subject, especially in Canada. So we thought we’d take a deeper look and see what we could dig up.

Edmonton, like many cities, responded to the issue of unwanted tagging by developing a graffiti management plan. The impacts were quantified by MGM Management's audit of the graffiti in  Edmonton from 2010 through 2014. The study consisted of tracking the increase or decrease of graffiti throughout the city, the types of graffiti, and the number of taggers.

“During the 2014 audit, the audit team traveled over 560 kilometres within Edmonton’s 20 sample neighbourhoods, on streets, in alleys and laneways recording graffiti observations. During the course of this audit over 1,200 photographs were taken recording the graffiti observed… The method used by the City of Edmonton, as developed by the consultant for this audit provides a repeatable and unbiased way of auditing neighbourhoods for graffiti vandalism. The neighbourhoods examined in this audit can be examined in the future to determine whether the amount of graffiti vandalism is increasing or decreasing.” (City of Edmonton Graffiti Vandalism Audit – 2014)

There is a stigma that goes along with graffiti and vandalism, one that should be understood as separate from street art. Under the criminal code, graffiti is considered vandalism. It is a bylaw infraction in cities across Canada with a charge of “mischief over or under $5000.” But what is graffiti? Through the 2014 study, Edmonton found that the majority of graffiti was tagging, with less that 5% of overall graffiti being artistic in nature.

“In regards to the artistic nature of graffiti vandalism observed throughout the 2014 audit, it was repeatedly observed that graffiti appeared to be scrawled quickly onto property, in a stylized design as free hand text and not completed with artistic merit. Of the 1,071 observations made in 2014 fully 93.9% was “text only”, which is consistent with the observation made in 2013.” (City of Edmonton Graffiti Vandalism Audit – 2014)

web - Graffiti Which Side Are You On - photo credit Sarah Goldrup

This difference is important in understanding the positive impact that street art can have on communities. While tagging is an individual leaving their mark on a space, street art is an effort to bring art to the community. Community artwork can constructively change the perception of space and decrease vandalism.

“The City of Edmonton is committed to promoting safer, cleaner communities by reducing and preventing graffiti vandalism, while at the same time recognizing the artistic and cultural value street art can add when done tastefully, with permission and so that it does not contravene the Community Standards bylaw.” (City of Edmonton Graffiti Vandalism Audit – 2014)

Graffiti management plans for removal, prevention, and enforcement, in which the city works with the police, citizens and the street art community, have a demonstrable effect on communities. The findings of the MGM audit describe the impact that the City of Edmonton’s graffiti management program had on the frequency and prevalence of graffiti in their municipality. From 2010 to 2014 the audit studied 20 hot spot locations for vandalism in the city, and a similar number of random control areas in the same regions. The 2014 audit showed 11% fewer sites tagged with graffiti compared to 2013, and a 24% decrease in tagging overall. Downtown graffiti was seen to decrease by 31% in comparison to 2013. Encouragingly, overall graffiti in Edmonton saw a whopping 45.9% decrease since the inaugural audit of 2010. (City of Edmonton Graffiti Vandalism Audit – 2014)

These numbers show the positive effect that a cooperative effort from the city, citizens, and street art community can have on vandalism. In addition to enforcement and removal, prevention is a major factor. Public projects liken to the stunning traditional murals in Pembroke, as well as innovative, interesting street art that can creatively beautify necessary eyesores such as hydro or telephone boxes, are vital. In addition to its visual benefits, street art can flourish into a number of important commnity opportunites, including the creation of alternative art spaces, and new avenues for youth outreach. These efforts to connect to our urban landscape address the needs of communities, business owners, and artists alike. 

We’ve been proud to partner with the City of Guelph and the Downtown Guelph Business Association on local projects aimed to address these issues, such as Graffiti Fest, Guelph Mercury Mural by Andrew Frazer, Electric Street Art, and HATCH [pop-up-art-space].

Strolling around Guelph, it’s clear that – as in any city – there is graffiti present, but we also have some great street art to enjoy. You’ll notice that most proper street art pieces are not tagged with graffiti, and those that do have graffiti are either are situated in an area so dense with graffiti that it seems no surface could escape, or the tag appears in blank space around the art. In all cases however, it seems that artistic pieces are tagged far less frequently, if ever. These observations are confirmed by the City of Edmonton’s study in which they report, “In the 2014 audit the consultant observed that murals, throughout the City, were not generally defaced by graffiti tags. This reinforces previous observations that in general graffiti vandals avoid tagging murals.” (City of Edmonton Graffiti Vandalism Audit – 2014) MGM Management is now working to create a graffiti audit with the City of Hamilton.

web - Fox at Red Brick by Andrew Frazer 2012 - Photo by Sarah Goldrup 2015

Red Brick Cafe's cheeky chic fox, untagged. 

 

web - Bird Mural at Guelph Mercury by Andrew Frazer 2012 - Photo by Sarah Goldrup 2015

Part of mural on Guelph Mercury building by Andrew Frazer, created in 2012, photographed July 2015 tagged. Consider level of postering and tagging that might be on a typical downtown corrugated metal wall and garage door with no art on it.

 

web - Mural at The Joint Cafe by Mark Zilio 2012 - photo credit Sarah Goldrup 2015

Cheerful alleyway street art on Joint Cafe by Mark Zilio, created 2012, photgraphed July 2015, untagged.

web - Graffiti Wall Along Speed River 2 - Sarah Goldrup photo cred 2015

Graffiti on a wall along the Speed River. Local artist Arthur Kerry worked with Guelph Police service in 2013 to "tip the balance from graffiti scribbles toward wall art that's attractive for the  city" http://www.guelphmercury.com/news-story/4203041-artist-conquers-graffiti-with-mural/. A recent development has Murals of Hope looking to transform the space http://www.guelphmercury.com/news-story/5699375-guelph-graffiti-wall-to-be-transformed-into-a-mural-of-hope/

The support of public artwork in Guelph is vital to the continued growth of culture in our community. By creating these opportunities and introducing a level of professionalism to the process, we can work together to build a foundation and philosophy for public art in Guelph. There are many ways to ensure the quality of community art in Guelph. As with any investment in your building or outdoor space, whether it’s landscaping, a new roof, storefront or deck – spend the time to find the right person for the job, have a proper agreement in writing, and don’t forget the old adage “You get what you pay for”.

Graffiti will always be an issue. Vandalism and graffiti in Guelph is an on-going battle, and enforcement does not seem to be a solution by itself. Working to connect the street art community, citizens and property owners, prevention programs are being developed. There will always be those who want to leave their mark on the cityscape, and by creating access to alternatives to graffiti and by forging a strong community connection we can work together constructively to bring art to our community.

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