News

Nanaimo RCMP host annual graffiti cleanup

Constables Mark Smith, left, and Jonathan Fisher of the RCMP Bike Patrol Ride under the  Nanaimo Parkway railway overpass near Jenkins Road, which is often the target of graffiti. RCMP and the city are staging Nanaimo
Constables Mark Smith, left, and Jonathan Fisher of the RCMP Bike Patrol Ride under the Nanaimo Parkway railway overpass near Jenkins Road, which is often the target of graffiti. RCMP and the city are staging Nanaimo's annual graffiti clean-up day Sunday (June 1).
— image credit: CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

The Nanaimo Graffiti Task Force will host its annual spring cleaning of graffiti tags that have cropped up on utility poles, fences, public buildings and mailboxes around town.

Const. Mark Smith, who heads the task force, said unlike some cities, tags in Nanaimo don't represent gang activity. They're mostly scribbled by teenagers, but tags make people uneasy, are expensive to clean up and are property damage, not art.

The key, Smith said, is to report graffiti to police and clean it up as quickly as possible.

Consistent tag removal efforts caused a decline in annual clean-up costs from a high in 2008 of $116,000 to just over $47,000 in 2012. In 2013 costs jumped back up to almost $66,000.

"If you're an artist, you're an artist. There's venue for that," Smith said. "If you're a graffiti tagger you're not looking for [art] venues and that's the subculture I'm trying to ... I wouldn't say, 'eradicate,' but keep the weeds down."

Const. Gary O'Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, said the biggest crime issue for most residents he meets at Block Watch meetings, after break-ins, is graffiti.

"It comes up at every talk," O'Brien said. "It's unsettling, they don't know who's doing it, they feel that their community is being taken over by these vandals, by these people who are going to proceed into gang activity. It's a little bit of fear of the unknown, but it's extremely unsettling for them and they really get scared."

Why not give graffiti artists a public space to express themselves as has been done in some cities, asks Nanaimo artist Yvonne Vander Kooi.

"I think there's all kinds of forms of graffiti, the lowest form being tagging, which has no artistry connected to it," Vander Kooi said.

Vander Kooi sees higher forms of graffiti and urban art as a challenge to monopolization of public space by corporate advertisers.

"They aren't the only ones that own public space and we have messages and images to share even though we don't have millions of dollars behind an advertising campaign," Vander Kooi said.

Smith said, because of the hierarchy of the graffiti culture, a prominent graffiti artist will fill an entire wall, forcing other taggers to use unsanctioned spaces.

"In no community has a free wall ever worked," Smith said.

The annual Nanaimo Graffiti Vandalism Clean Up happens Sunday (June 1) 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Everyone is invited meet the Nanaimo Graffiti Task force at Port Place Shopping Centre prior to the 11 a.m. start time. Thrifty Foods is hosting a hot dog barbecue for the event.

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