Calgary’s ‘Up The Wall’ graffiti program for teens ends due to lack of participants

Up The Wall, a program launched last spring aimed at encouraging teenage graffiti vandals to use their artistic skills for good instead of crime, will cease operations due to a lack of participants, city councillors heard Wednesday.

Arpana Gajjar with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, which ran the program, said there simply weren’t enough teens being referred to sustain it.

“The only referral source for youth coming into the program was the Calgary Police Service’s joint graffiti investigative team,” she told the city’s community and protective services committee. “We were having a difficult time filing our cohort.”

Launched last May, the program was aimed at preventing teens charged with vandalism from “getting entrenched in the graffiti subculture” through twice-weekly sessions “opening them up to positive, legal alternatives” for expressing their artistic talents, Gajjar said.

In total, it served 15 teens with a 67-per-cent “success rate,” she added.

As part of a restorative justice component, Gajjar said one of the program participants admitted his role in a spree of vandalism in the Kensington area last June, and apologized for it.

Annie MacInnis, executive of the Kensington BRZ, said she came away from that process with an “understanding and commonality with the kids who are engaging in this.”

“When I come to Kensington and find it’s been defaced with graffiti, that makes feel sad and it makes me feel frustrated,” she said. “One of the things I found interesting in the restorative justice process was that a lot of the motivation for doing graffiti also seems to be rooted in sadness and frustration.”

Coun. Evan Woolley said he was sad to see Up The Wall, which received about $66,000 in city funding and was initially set to run as a two-year pilot project, come to an early end.

“I was really excited about this program,” he said. “I’m disappointed to see it’s not ongoing.”

Woolley also said the city needs more places for graffiti artists to do their work in a legal way.

“The graffiti community has been dying for an ongoing graffiti space,” he said. “There’s so much opportunity for us – with not much more money than this – to create ongoing and perpetual space for kids to utilize in communities. We have lots and lots of walls in this city … for kids to connect and gather and create art.”

By: Robson Fletcher March 4, 2015

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