Public art installations to deter vandalism could be part of a new City of Sarnia graffiti policy – but the prospect has some on council wary.
“I think allowing people to craft their own art on infrastructure is a slippery slope,” Coun. Bill Dennis said at a recent council meeting. “Everyone’s definition of art is different, and we do not want to end up being the art police.”
His comments prompted a rebuttal from Coun. Nathan Colquhoun, who said public art on city infrastructure can help revitalize and beautify communities.
“I would love to be known as an art community that actually integrates the arts,” he said.
Council voted 6-3 – Couns. George Vandenberg and Terry Burrell were also opposed – to let staff look more into options for public art opportunities and report back by the end of June.
“Graffiti artists don’t typically hit stuff that there’s already a canvas on there,” Sarnia community services general manager Stacey Forfar said about the basis for the idea.
“It’s a nice way to offset that, and public works has a few places they’ve identified that get hit quite a bit, so why not just open up the space instead to public art?”
Barrie, for example, wraps traffic control boxes at intersections with canvas-like prints of local artists’ work, Forfar said.
“It’s a way to animate the space, get some consensus – you can celebrate local artists, that kind of thing,” she said, noting the wrap approach means the art piece isn’t original and is easier to replace if it fades over time.
Murals on blank walls – something that’s historically been done in Sarnia’s downtown and Mitton Village – are another option, she said.
A committee of artists and others in the community will consider options over the next few months and present those to council for consideration, she said.
Public art opportunities are one aspect of the draft plan that includes setting a target cleanup response – two days for profane graffiti, five days otherwise – and approving $30,000 to buy various solvents, a trailer, generator and hoses to tackle vandalism in the city.
The full policy, except the public art installation piece, is expected to come back to council March 22 for approval.
The policy also notes new city builds should use pretreated materials to make surfaces graffiti resistant, and calls for the city to work out agreements with service providers with infrastructure, such as hydro poles, on city property.
That could mean the city doing the cleanup work and invoicing service providers for the cost, Forfar said.
“We’re the ones that get the calls anyway,” she said.
On average, Sarnia sees about 32 cases of graffiti each year, her report to council outlined.
Developing the policy dates back to July 2019, when Dennis expressed concerns about the amount of graffiti downtown, city officials said.
“There hasn’t been a particular uptick or a particular instance,” Forfar said. “I think there’s just been a reflection that graffiti can generally send a negative image to visitors and local residents.”