Can art conquer graffiti? Montreal is about to find out. Montreal city councillor Marcel Tremblay has laid down a challenge to the spray-paint brigade. He announced that the city is willing to pay for artistic merit in public art. If that includes graffitists, that's fine. If it doesn't, they should make way for real artists.
A few days ago Tremblay stood before what is believed to be the largest mural the city has ever seen, a 23 metre by 24 metre piece (see photo) celebrating the 40th anniversary of Expo 67.
The mural was painted by Jasmin Guérard-Alie and Simon Bachand on the wall of the Old Brewery Mission at the corner of St. Antoine St. and St. Laurent Blvd. Tremblay said he would like to see a series of murals showcasing the city's history - as well as setting a standard of excellence in public art.
He hopes to be able to get at least some of Montreal's so-called "graffiti artists" involved in the project. It's a worthwhile initiative. Many spray-painters merely repeat the same banal squiggles over and over again, but a few do show some artistic talent. If both groups could be deterred from using other people's walls, the city would save $6.5 million in clean-up costs.
Do not-very-good graffitists take any inspiration from more-talented ones? Could there be a "trickle-down" effect here? We don't know, frankly. But it's worth a try, and the historic murals are not a bad idea even if they have no effect on graffiti.
With its graffiti clean-up budget already at $5.5 million a year, Montreal has announced that it will be spending an additional $1 million in response to requests from suburbs such as Île Bizard, which has been hit recently with an epidemic of spray-paint vandalism.
We wish Tremblay good luck in his novel attack against a scourge that defaces cities all over the world. Here's a chance for spray punks to step up to real art which can make the city more interesting. Instead of scrawls, we could have paintings that really mean something to Montrealers.