Monday, August 19, 2013

Climb that Wall

House of Paint
Photo Credit: Landry
The wall got a little bit smaller today.

I just got word today that the City of Ottawa and The Ottawa School Board, which hosts one of Ottawa's historic legal walls, have raised concerns about a ladder that writers have kept stored at the Tech Wall for years. They want it disposed of.

The concern being expressed by these two governing bodies, I suspect, are largely based on actuarial type risks; think insurance companies, risk and public space.

I am going to assume the decision to remove the ladder was made without thinking through the consequences of this request. As such, I am making a public plea to both the Board and the City of Ottawa to re-evaluate what it is that they are asking of the citizens who use this park.

Daser Photo Credit: Simon Milligan
First, this action limits writers to working on the lower half of the wall. I am sure local fans of graffiti/urban art will recall the impressive Daser productions that have graced a large portion of the wall over the years. Filling the wall , Daser inspires writers to think big, think complex, think beyond the 'tag'. Where else can artists get practice working on larger scale projects so that maybe someday they will create art for Ottawa akin to what Omen has recently created in Windsor, Ontario, or A'Shop has done for Montreal?

Never, Heiro & Prank
Photo Credit: Sneak @ Keepsix.com
When a production is not taking up the height, the wall runs like a comic book strip, showcasing two rows of work at any given time. The ladder is relied upon to fill the top strip. The top is usually the last to get filled because it is difficult to run up and down rungs all afternoon. Women who write at the wall typically do so up high, so that their work will run a bit longer  than it would otherwise if it took up a lower section. The fact of the matter is, graffiti is a largely a male dominated activity; it ain't easy making a name for yourself as a writer when you are a woman (although it is certainly not impossible). By taking away the ladder, you are making the wall a little less welcoming space for women writers.

The removal of the ladder demonstrates a lack of understanding of how the writers use the wall, and how important 'up' is to writers. You can take away the ladder, and some will still get 'up'. HOW they will get up, however, will most likely be MORE dangerous than standing on an aging ladder stored behind a fence year round. I've seen some pretty precarious balancing acts in my time at that wall.

If the Board is truly concerned about the safety of the writers, why not offer an annual ladder exchange: out with the old, in with the new: a kind of harm reduction approach to art. I checked Home Depot online, and for about 175$, you can get a pretty sweet ladder. Given the importance of this wall in contributing to the urban landscape of this city, a ladder is a small cost for this liquid year round mural offered up to OC Transit riders for free everyday. You can even put a wee sign on it: "use this sweet ladder at your own risk..."

Authority with a sense of humour is always appreciated.

If none of what I have written sways you, consider this:  making it more difficult for writers to use a space that the city said they could legally use gives writers more reasons to distrust the city, and be cynical about their willingness to work with writers. Writers have contacted me today, expressing understandable frustration :  try to work with the city on their terms, and you lose ground each year, inch by inch.

It's not "just" a ladder.

If you make it more difficult for someone to write at this wall, they will write elsewhere. So, yes, you should fear that they move on to cities like Montreal or Toronto, where they go on to learn how to fill skyscrapers to the delight of tourists and transit users alike.

What a terrible resource to chase out of our town, all over a ladder.

If you are a citizen of Ottawa who feels that there is a better way to assure the Board and City of their concerns over the use of a ladder, why not call 3-1-1 and suggest a more equitable solution than ladder removal.

Crazy Apes Production
 Photo Credit: Sneak @Keepsix.com

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