The revival of a program where volunteers paint over graffiti in Esquimalt has sparked questions from community advocates who, along with staff, said it didn’t end up quelling the unsanctioned artworks in the past.
Council on July 11 voted to call for volunteers to re-establish the Esquimalt Together Against Graffiti (ETAG) program. The township said the initiative successfully managed graffiti for several years as volunteers quickly responded to and painted over tagged buildings and infrastructure.
However, the number of volunteers dwindled over time, a staff report said, and the program has been inactive in recent years. Township workers have and will continue to remove graffiti from municipal infrastructure, while any new ETAG volunteers would initially focus on utility poles and electrical boxes.
Council also approved bringing forward a 2023 budget request to hire a contractor for removing graffiti on private property – especially larger-scale displays like what’s visible from the E&N Rail Trail.
In presentations to council, members of the public said not only was ETAG unsuccessful, it could be counterproductive.
Laura-Beth Keane, who works in urban art and murals, said she’s concerned to see ETAG revived.
“We can come up with a much more creative and innovative program instead of just painting over things that we don’t like in the community,” she said.
Keane also hoped the community could save some painted wall pieces that were inspired by Esquimalt itself.
The township and Victoria police are also using a graffiti-tracking app, which in part creates a database of taggers that and could help build cases against them.
“I think anytime you’re tracking and hunting people down, this needs to be done with great complexity and care,” Keane said.
She volunteered to consult with the community on a graffiti program that wouldn’t increase any tension between community groups. After Coun. Ken Armour asked if the township could take up Keane’s offer, staff said their time is currently maxed out for this year, so any talks would need funding through next year’s budget.
Jesse Campbell, a muralist who works with at-risk youth in Esquimalt, encouraged the council to take a more preventative approach that includes youth in mural creation.
“I work with a lot of folks who have done graffiti in the past and the reason I raise concern over this ETAG program is because we have done stuff like this before and it did not work.”
Campbell doesn’t condone random tagging, but said previous graffiti programs have only added to the animosity in the community. He said community strategy needs to include more creative discussions to make space in the community for at-risk youth or those on the margins.
Mayor Barb Desjardins said the township can address graffiti being done without permission while also advancing permitted murals in the community.
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