Graffiti: art or addiction?

Burnaby Coun. Anne Kang says graffiti vandalism is a form of addiction

In the last five years, City of Burnaby sites have been the unwilling canvas for spray-painted graffiti more than 1,100 times.

Several years ago, the city launched it’s mayor’s task force on graffiti to combat the issue on Burnaby streets. At the last council meeting, city council discussed classifying graffiti as an art form, and whether it's done out of an addiction or predilection for tagging public and private property on city streets.

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Coun. Pietro Calendino, chair of the mayor’s task force on graffiti, said despite the stark number of 836 graffiti incidents on private property from June 2007 to June 2013, and 1,147 on city properties in the same period, there’s been a lot of progress in the “graffiti war.”

“We have an anti-graffiti coordinator pairing up with the RCMP with a graffiti constable, and the two make a formidable pair,” he said. “They’re doing a lot of things, going out into the community doing workshops. They’re actually going to parents’ houses of young offenders who have been either caught or indicated a problem.”

Calendino said they have been able to identify graffiti artists simply by their art style, while there’s not much they can do unless the person is caught in the act.

But Calendino’s choice of words doesn’t sit well with Mayor Derek Corrigan.

“I was with you up until the point you started to refer to vandals as artists, but I can understand that there are some residuals in that regard,” he said to Calendino at the meeting Monday. “I’ve always taken the position that people who put paint on other people’s property are vandals and not artists.”

Corrigan noted people who create murals are artists and the city’s mural program has been successful. Burnaby will subsidize up to $3,500 for an approved mural in the community through its mural grant program.

“We’ve been encouraging young artists to take part in art that enhances the buildings in our community, as opposed to people who are out there committing vandalism,” he added.

But Coun. Anne Kang went one step further in the debate, as to whether graffiti is an art or an act of vandalism – she called it an addiction.

“Vandalism is a type of addiction,” she said. “They get self-gratification from their own art, they like to admire their own art, they tag their own art. They tweet them, they put them on Faceook. This type of addiction is serious and people don’t realize that. They think kids are just playing around and wanting to deface certain properties, but it is an addiction.”

She said parents can check their children for signs of becoming a “graffiti vandal” if they have felt pens, spray paint or a scrapbook at home.

Kang also noted that the city’s graffiti program has been successful, as 15 anti-graffiti wraps were put on new or replacement signal controller cabinets, and five murals were put up throughout Burnaby in 2013.

“Burnaby is becoming more and more beautiful, and our graffiti rate is going down,” she added.

From June 2007 to June 2012, graffiti went down from 179 incidents on public utilities to 44. There were 72 incidents from June 2012 to June 2013, according to a staff report.

The city’s bus shelters and street light poles had the largest increase in graffiti incidences.

Another concern was the resurgence of acid etching on glass panels as some local craft stores have begun stocking their acid etching products on shelves. The city has encouraged these stores to once again lock up their products.

“The Burnaby graffiti bylaw, unlike many others, allows the city and the RCMP to do enforcement based on the ‘balance of probabilities,’” according to a staff report. “New bylaw tickets have been created to facilitate the process and will be distributed to all Burnaby uniform police officers, making it easier to issue.”

In the past year, some city-funded murals were vandalized and authorities are aware of who the individual is.

“I hope the police catch him and prosecute him to the full extent,” Corrigan said. “It’s embarrassing to anybody who likes to think of themselves as a graffiti artist, to have someone go out and vandalize a mural that was done by someone else. I think that was incredibly offensive.”

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