Please Mr. Mayor, I want some more… public art.

So I’m a big fan of the Art Nouveau style, especially the works of Czech artist and interior decorator Alfons Maria Mucha. So as you might imagine, I was quite impressed when my brother told me about a new mural that had gone up recently in NDG at the corner of Madison and Sherbrooke Street West. You can read all about the A’shop graffiti crew’s work on this mural here.

Over the last few years I’ve noticed some interesting new murals have gone up, like the one on the side of the Old Brewery Mission (which can be seen from Viger and St. Laurent) or the one on the wall next to Briskets on Beaver Hall Hill near Boul. René-Lévesque. There are public art gems all over the city, some official, some less so. A personal favourite is the portrait of René Lévesque just in from Stanley across from the Odyssey book store – you’d never see it unless you were attracted to exploring back alleyways in the first place.

That said, there’s also an inordinate amount of shitty graffiti and tagging (like scrape tagging, bane of plexiglass everywhere) which is causing small business owners and landlords a fair bit of consternation, given that the City tries to get them to foot the clean-up bill and will fine those who don’t take care of the problem immediately. This isn’t entirely fair, though the City wants to encourage property owners to take the necessary precautions to prevent vandalism, such as installing lights in darkened areas around buildings, not to mention using motion detectors and exterior paints that allow for easy graffiti removal etc. Typically, property owners are disinclined from doing such things, given the added costs, and instead ask that the City provide more public security, if not police, to prevent vandalism.

I personally think this is a waste of tax-payer money; police need to focus on real crimes and public security, well frankly they could use a gigantic chill pill. Some kid tagging a building is hardly akin to an al-Qaeda sleeper cell, though given the actions of some law enforcement, you wouldn’t know it. Clearly property owners have a responsibility to keep their buildings well lit, and generally speaking this is the best way to deter vandals or up-and-coming artists with a lack of canvas.

That said, the City also has a responsibility to try and sift through the masses and figure out who has actual artistic talents. Our city’s artists need places to hone their skills and craft, and when it comes to graffiti, we have a lot of ugly white/beige/grey walls that could use some public art. The City should solicit graffiti artists and art collectives to decorate our big blank walls – we have far too many of them. Small discounts on taxation or utility costs to property owners would be an excellent incentive, and a further treatment of finished murals could prevent them from being damaged by vandals, the elements etc. If we were to take this a step further, we would secure abandoned properties to be used by graffiti artists so that they can practice. But we need to go about this in a more enlightened fashion.

I think we can all agree, graffiti is a legitimate artistic style and medium. That it is still commonly, subconsciously, thought of being akin to vandalism is unfortunate, but this is merely another reason for the City of Montréal to come out ahead and try doing things a different way.

Murals such as the one above aren’t merely impressive, they can increase land value (for what should be obvious reasons), and offer necessary outlets for the vital creative class within our community. Apply this on a city-wide scale and we might be able to put a real dent in ‘vandalism’ while offering bored kids a method of expressing themselves. Moreover, if the City were to secure abandoned properties to be used for this purpose, we can prevent kids from getting killed in train and Métro tunnels. R.I.P. Jays.

Speaking of which – when the Métro was originally designed, public art and art of a particular historical/socio-cultural significance was featured prominently in each station. This is still largely the case, though I find there are still plenty of drab concrete walls that could be spruced up. Point is, whatever investment funds are necessary to stimulate the creative class and support new public art projects is really a drop of water in an immense bucket. Such an investment will lower the crime rate, provide creative outlets to inner city youth, increase property values and generally brighten people’s days. If a crowd can be formed to watch a demonstration or the demolition of a building, then they will certainly congregate to see some public art.

Ultimately, it’s an investment in ourselves.

Final thought: Grain Silo No. 5 as an immense mural (with at least one part featuring a trompe-d’oeuil giving the perspective of what’s on the other side).

We’re not doing much else with it, so why not? We could probably get every single artist in the City working on it at the same time. It would certainly generate a lot of buzz in the art world.

So please Mr. Mayor, I want some more public art in my city. Let’s give the creative class, the guts of our society, a real stimulus package.

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