Seen through the eyes of a graffiti artist, a clean brick wall is like a blank canvas. In Montreal’s Notre Dame de Grâce (N.D.G.) neighbourhood, though, those blank canvases are becoming increasingly rare. Tired of finding spray-painted tags on their buildings, local business owners have decided to fight fire with fire: they’re letting a professional graffiti artist adorn their walls, before the amateurs have a chance to.
Once a graffiti magnet, the wall at Snowdon Bakery (famous for its challah) now features a white-hatted baker surrounded by colourful abstract shapes, says owner Abie Gmora. It’s only been a couple of weeks since the mural went up, but so far, “youngsters or oldsters” have refrained from “scribbling” all over it. Would-be taggers won’t draw over murals, Gmora believes, because it’s the unwritten code of “the underground, the overground, whatever.”
Guillaume Lapointe, the graffiti artist behind Snowdon Bakery’s wall, was hired by Prevention N.D.G., a community non-profit that received $80,000 of borough funds this year to fight graffiti. (N.D.G. is one of the most tagged neighbourhoods in Montreal.) Lapointe has created more than 20 local murals, adorning everything from the Royal Canadian Legion to a Persian grocery store.
Not everyone’s happy about the plan. Prevention N.D.G.’s director, Terri Ste. Marie, says she’s gotten complaints from residents about using tax dollars to create more graffiti, and one tagger pointed out that the plan could stifle tomorrow’s great street artists: “Sorry guys, but to get to your murals, we all started with tags,” he wrote online.
Gmora has bigger worries than a few scribbles, as he calls them. “There are these things called ulcers, and they’re worse than graffiti,” he says. But does he truly believe his walls will stay tag-free? “Call me in a month.”