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Creative ways to deal with graffiti

12 Dec 2018 Graham Porter

As the cleaning of graffiti costs for residents and businesses climb, some councils are involved in addressing the challenges of those trying to manage it on their buildings. Maribyrnong City Council has long advocated public art spaces with engaging results, providing a way forward for those in need of new ideas for managing the issue.

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Overall, it’s a complex issue and cannot simply be characterised as vandalism for its own sake. Practitioners are often an organised sub-culture forming part of our broader artistic community. Some are disadvantaged and alienated teens dedicated to tagging which is driven by a desire for recognition. There are politically-motivated graffiti artists who strive for social change by leaving slogans and messages on walls, and crews who are committed to ‘subway’ art.

Maribyrnong City Council is a clear example of how creativity and innovative thinking can produce positive results. Their StreetWORKS program has coloured public spaces and successfully reduced the amount of graffiti for almost five years. Bringing together artists and traders has enabled the development of themed designs and murals that inspire and educate their community.

A report by Susan Geason & Paul Wilson for The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) discusses planning, management, architectural and design strategies for reducing vandalism and graffiti on public buildings, schools, and on public transport. Trying to eradicate graffiti is deemed unrealistic but through a combined approach of ‘situational strategy and long-term prevention programs’ there is an opportunity for significant success. 

A ‘situational strategy’ relates to managing the exposure and vulnerability of buildings to being vandalised. Using surveillance, lighting, and having more considered architectural design and planning can help to deter vandalism.  But what does a ‘long-term prevention program’ look like? StreetWORKS makes for an excellent example that has given rise to effective initiatives that developed from its inception. 

The graffiti prevention program designed by Maribyrnong City Council helped to support youths in developing their creative skills. It gave young people the chance to learn more about Melbourne’s street art scene. Young locals did many weeks of workshops at Phoenix Youth Centre, and these were led by respected local street artist TRASHORT and a number of other professional mentor artists.

The result was an impressive street art mural at Chemist Warehouse in central Footscray, a location identified as graffiti-prone and where youths collaborated with renowned street artists.

There are numerous examples of murals in suburbs across Melbourne that have beautified a space that would otherwise be used for graffiti or tagging. 

It’s a worthwhile approach for schools that presents a new way of engaging young people with the incentive of owning their community spaces.

Brian Parker explains that with many heritage-listed buildings however, murals are unsuitable as a response to graffiti. 

“This just wouldn’t work for something that is considered sacred, but I’ve seen this in some schools. For a church, preserving original architectural features wouldn’t allow a mural.”

Traditional preventative measures such as camera security, alarms, and lighting are effective in reducing the temptation to deface walls on buildings.

Other options recommended by the government through its crime prevention campaign include initiatives to cover walls that are vulnerable to graffiti, if not with paint then with plants and vertical gardens. Promoting more activities near a vulnerable wall will assist with natural surveillance and through a shared effort on clean-up days also promote a sense of community ownership in caring for the exposed area.

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At a parish level, fundraising activities and mural workshops could be planned for a community space nearby. Creating a mobile or temporary wall for creative expression is also a possibility within parish grounds. Engaging with artists may assist in the development of ideas around a graffiti prevention program. 

According to the AIC report on preventing graffiti and vandalism… “Projects which help reduce vandalism tend to have a strong creative element and give participants a sense of ownership.”

The report also cites Bondi Youth Centre in Sydney as another success story. Some 50 reformed graffiti artists use the space there as a second home and have stopped "bombing" in favour of creating complete pictures.

The report says “the drop-in centre keeps young people entertained with activities, including a graffiti course which teaches them art and allows them to test their talents at legal venues donated by private or public contacts.”

For Maribyrnong City Council the impact of the StreetWORKS program on the community has been extremely positive.

Clem Gillings , Director Community Services, explains why.

“Initiated in 2014, StreetWORKS is an art project that creates innovative, visual street art to enliven our city’s spaces and places, while discouraging graffiti and tagging. The project is a unique collaboration between Council, local artists, property owners and business proprietors that enables art to be appreciated by the entire community in locations across the city. Since 2014, over 30 artists have been commissioned by Council to create murals at various locations throughout Maribyrnong. Not only have we seen a reduction in tagging and graffiti at some of the City’s ‘hotspots’ thanks to StreetWORKS, but the program has also helped us create healthy, inclusive, and engaged communities by taking arts to our streets and providing more activated spaces and places.”




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Graham Porter

With almost 30 years of experience in the insurance and financial services sector, Graham’s expertise drives risk management support for Catholic Schools and Catholic Education Offices, across Australia. He holds a CCI Church and Parish segment leadership role, evaluating frameworks for responding to critical risks. He is a strategic leader who assists Church organisational supervisors to identify critical risk issues and incorporate risk thinking into their business decisions.

See all articles by Graham

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