GRAFFITI MANAGEMENT PLAN
Last month,Toronto city council established an official panel to assess the city’s graffiti. The ‘Graffiti Management Plan’ as it is now known came from a pledge by the city’s mayor to reduce public vandalism. The panel consists of five specialist who will go around Toronto, to determine which pieces of graffiti have enough artistic credentials to warrant preserving and which should just be removed.
You might ask, what has this got to do with Cardiff? Well the issues Toronto council are addressing are not restricted to one country, or even one continent. Any culturally-conscious city in the world can see that over the last ten years street art has become more recognised and accepted as an art form by the general public. Cardiff has a thriving street art scene but faces the same conundrum as Toronto and other cities.
Cardiff Council receive on average 1200 complaints about graffiti a year. Many of the complaints are completely understandable, people thinking something looks unsightly, or it brings down the reputation of an area. The council also removes graffiti which is likely to cause offense such as those which used threatening words. Preventative measures have been put in place to minimize the damage some graffiti has on an area, such as murals, anti-graffiti coatings and educating in schools.
However the council is aware the decision to remove some street art can be difficult at times. Alex Gazi, from Cardiff Council, said:
“We recognise the line does blur on occasions. In general if something is unauthorised its graffiti. 90% of what we come across really has little artistic merit and was probably completed in under a minute. There are occasions when we do come across work that is undoubtedly highly skilled and has probably taken quite a while to complete. Unfortunately this is still classed as illegal. It has been done without the owners consent. To date though, even in cases such as this, I’ve never had a property owner want it removed, probably because they like it.”
He added to implement a panel, as Toronto has done, in Cardiff would ultimately be difficult because the power lies with the property owner and not the council.
Street art has become more prominent in the UK as a result of well-known artists such as Banksy. Yet even these people have had their work targeted in campaigns against graffiti. In 2009, a volunteer in Somerset painted over a Banksy piece worth £5000.
Yet Cardiff street artist have been given a safe place to showcase their work, free from fear of prosecution. In Landaff North, just off St Andrew’s Road, artists have been given two walls, both 500 ft long, to spray to their hearts content. Walking down this thoroughfare, it’s like an open air gallery, you are immediately struck by the colour, the variety and the quality of the work on show.
The walls are next to Wales’s first graffiti and street art gallery, The Boiler House. The galleries aim is to support and showcase street art while providing local and national artists a place to sell their work. The gallery is run by Peaceful Progress and they provide community workshops which they claim “are great for building confidence, and are an exciting way to engage and inspire young people of all ages”.
Two years ago, Bradley Rmer set up a similar project, called Trackside Studio in Roath. He said: “I needed a space to create my art, this has led to holding community workshop in the space, our workshop are for every one from school children to graphic designers. Everyone can get positive and creative experience out of our workshop sessions.”
Both studios encourage community involvement and education, far from the reputation of urban decay and criminality that graffiti once had. The tutors of these workshops are experienced artists, Mr Rmer said”I have been using aerosol paint for 17 years but have been drawing since I could first pick up a crayon.” But he adds, ”I’m still learning! You can learn a lot in just a few months, depending on the energy and practice you put into it.
What becomes clear is, far from mindless vandalism, street art requires great skill and experience. What distinguishes them from ‘traditional’ artists is their choice of canvas – the urban environment.
This type of art has inspired Cardiff based artist, Alexandra Jones:
If you want to see for yourself some of Cardiff street art, see map below: