How Murals Help Reduce Graffiti Vandalism and Attract People To Downtown Moncton

Fred Harrison's mural for Festival Inspire 2016 before it was coloured in, located across the Synagogue on Steadman St. Image: Inda Intiar/Huddle

MONCTON –  The wall on Dexter’s Flea Market across from the Synagogue was often tagged with racist insults. That’s no longer the case now that there is a mural there painted by artist Fred Harrison as part of Festival Inspire.

Matt Kingsley Williston, co-founder of Festival Inspire and L’Art Ici SVP, told public safety officials at the Anti-Graffiti Symposium (TAGS) in early May that public art in the form of murals can reduce vandalism.

“What I would love to see is if municipalities can take an interest in [muralism] and if it can help squash out graffiti and not the other way around,” Williston said.

Williston was the creative director of Festival Inspire from 2013 to 2017 and the current lead of L’Art Ici SVP. Both aim to bring art to the masses by putting it on walls and public spaces.

Festival Inspire is an annual event that has put 32 murals and installations by Canadian and international artists around Greater Moncton. It also features musical performances, art installations, circus acts, art bazaars and others.

Many of the walls that have been painted with Festival Inspire and L’art Ici SVP’s murals have seen no or much less graffiti than when the walls were empty, Williston said.

“People that are putting up socially conscious and community sensitive murals in this town are fighting the same fight,” he said to media after the event. “It’s to squash the vandalism that’s going on and get art and culture in cities. And have a fun colourful, artistic place to live.”

Here is a gallery of 15 of the murals and installations gracing exterior walls in Greater Moncton:

RCMP’s Constable Chris Fader, whose work focuses on illegal graffiti, says the murals have reduced the amount of illegal markings that appeared on building walls downtown.

“The only mural I know that got tagged was the one by Wize Guyz [pub],” Const. Fader said at TAGS, referring to a mural by British artist Dan Kitchener on Robinson St. that was vandalized. The graffiti writing has since been removed and the mural has stayed clean since.

Downtown Moncton Centre-ville, the organizer of TAGS, has also been a partner of Festival Inspire. Executive Director Anne Poirier Basque hopes to raise awareness about the importance of reporting, recording and removing graffiti.

“This is going to help us work towards by-laws and a process in continuing our report, record, remove [approach],” she said. “And possibly providing some kind of a program for businesses who want to remove it in the downtown.”

Poirier Basque said Moncton doesn’t have the same graffiti vandalism problem as larger cities like Vancouver, thanks to the work of RCMP and municipal officers. But some areas continue to be “tagged” and property owners tend to ignore the issue.

“They shouldn’t take that stance. They should say we want our community to be tag-free,” she said. “[You need to] take care of [graffiti] in your downtown because if you don’t, the problem would just get worse. We all want a safe and vibrant downtown.”

DMCI has spent around $10,000 to remove illegal markings on public property and signage downtown, Poirier Basque said.

Law enforcement officials at TAGS noted that they’re wary of messages in a couple of the murals that may condone graffiti vandalism.

One mural of issue is the spray painted blue jay atop a spray paint can on St. George. It was painted by French artist Etien through Festival Inspire’s partnership with the French Consulate in Moncton.

But Williston said not all wall art done with a spray paint is graffiti. He said the festival’s organizers also consult with law enforcement officials.

“There is a lot of art that is contemporary muralism that is done in spray paint and is nowhere near to being illegal,” he said in his speech.

Williston said having mural art downtown also attracts people to the city’s core. No study has been done to analyze the economic impact of the murals, but he said he’s seen an increase in foot and bike traffic downtown.

“People are coming downtown now to see this public art. They’re coming in from Fredericton now, and from 40 minutes away,” he said. “It seems here that muralism is a dirty word. But I really don’t believe it is. It’s contemporary art that we’ve done on an international scale. Moncton is now on point.”

“I think it does add to the downtown. You may not like the murals, but it does add colour. It certainly gives an interesting feel to your downtown,” said Poirier Basque.

Festival Inspire will be back this year on July 9-14.