Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The writing on the wall

Anna Brassard is a Canadian urban planner and consultant specializing in SafeGrowth and urban design. Her consulting firm Brassard and Associates is based in Calgary. She kindly submitted this Guest Blog about her son.

Graffiti can be street art that enhances
I got the call about my son that no parent wants to get – especially a parent who has spent the greater part of her career practicing SafeGrowth. I was scared for him and furious with him at the same time.

My son is an artist. He is incredibly talented...and he loves graffiti art. We’ve had many heated discussions about what is wrong and right with graffiti.

To him it is creativity, self-expression and a way to be recognized by his peers – important to the young adolescent. To me it is vandalism and contributes to blight in communities. He complains that there are no legitimate places for he and his friends to paint; that there are no “free walls” in Calgary.

I understand his frustration!

The work that he and friends do is incredible. Other cities have embraced graffiti and use it to enhance their communities. Calgary is not one of those places. They do have programs to wrap utility boxes and paint underpasses but these are not easily accessible.

I should have seen the writing on the wall. He got caught!

This was a blessing in disguise. He entered a restorative justice program called Up The Wall offered by the Calgary Boys and Girls Club, City of Calgary Culture and the Calgary Police Service. He has spent 4 hours, twice a week for the past 3 months in this program and he has loved it.


I attended the art show on the final day of the program and it was outstanding! Art work done over the weeks on display: painted walls, painted shirts and most of all faces beaming with pride as parents, friends, mentors and organizers admired their work.

Art on display on graduation day
Embracing graffiti culture isn’t about legitimizing vandalism or giving them free reign. It boils down to the age-old problem of one generation’s respect for another. In this case it is about the respect for public and private property versus respect for artistic expression and its place in society.

I learned from my son this can’t be a one-sided conversation. It will take all of us to find solutions and create a multi-coloured picture of our city, not one in black and white.