By Pamela Roth
The City of Victoria is getting set to launch a new program that will turn a number of graffiti hot spots into murals.
The program, slated to be launched later this month, will match professional artists with youth interested in public art, then create murals in six locations throughout Victoria and surrounding neighbourhoods.
“It’s a form of trying to prevent some of the tagging, but it’s also to get people who are interested in street art an opportunity to work with a professional artist to do some beautification,” said Gary Pemberton, downtown programs liaison with the City of Victoria.
“Graffiti is just ongoing. It’s like the mail. It never stops. It keeps happening every night.”
Graffiti has been an ongoing problem in Victoria for a number of years. The subculture in the city dates back to the mid eighties when almost every alley in the downtown core was heavily tagged with large pieces.
Today, Pemberton said there’s about 10 to 15 active vandals, ranging in age from 12 to 40, who create the bulk of the vandalism. They tag all types of infrastructure, from power poles and mail boxes, to walls and etching glass.
Every week, the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA) removes an average of 100 tags that come in all shapes and sizes within their downtown boundaries. Most tags at street level in the downtown core are removed within 24 hours, but city staff are seeing a rise in larger tags high up on rooftops, which take more time to remove.
Now that school is back in session, Pemberton expects to see an increase in graffiti vandalism not only on school property, but also in the surrounding neighbourhoods.
Getting in front of the problem and prosecuting a vandal is difficult since the crimes usually take place in the middle of the night. The city often relies on video surveillance from businesses to help catch vandals in the act.
A 17-year-old charged with more than 30 counts of mischief relating to graffiti was recently handed a $1,200 fine and one-year probation after pleading guilty to six counts. Pemberton believes the teen was responsible for more than 300 tags in his career in Victoria alone.
“We are always chasing it. It’s hard to get in front… but I think we’ve done a good job at staying on top of it and maintaing it so it’s definitely not getting worse,” Pemberton said.
The city’s current property maintenance bylaw states that property owners are responsible for the removal of graffiti on their property within 14 days of being served official notice by the city. The city also partners with volunteer group, Victoria Together Against Graffiti (VTAG) to aid in removing tags from hydro poles in each neighbourhood. The program has supported approximately 50 ongoing volunteers to paint over graffiti on power poles.
Anyone interested in volunteering to paint can pick up a free paint out kit at their neighbourhood community centre.