Last night I attended the 61st Annual Salute to Excellence at Edmonton's beautiful Winspear centre. My friend Amy Loewan was inducted into the arts and culture Hall of Fame. Amy is one of the most humble people I know. It was an honour to be in her company and be a part of this special evening. Wonderful, inspiring words, music and images filled this magnificent venue and I left feeling really good about my small place in Edmonton's arts scene.
There is, however, another side to this great city that frustrates me to no end. Many of you will know that last week an art exhibition by the artist known as Daft Punk was confiscated from the NAESS Gallery at The Paint Spot. The exhibit is now being held as evidence in a case of vandalism. Daft Punk is a street artist who has been linked to acts of graffiti vandalism and my understanding is that the pieces on display at the Paint Spot resembled spray painted images and messages on private property so the police swooped in and took away the whole exhibit.
Now don't get me wrong I do not condone vandalism, I don't think that artists have the right to spray paint their work wherever they feel with no prior permission and however great I might think Banksy is (and I do) I have a really hard time reconciling my love of what he does with the fact that he blatantly breaks laws. But we're not talking about Banksy here. We're talking about a local artist who in his or her words wants "to create in a positive manner and bring a bit of a smile to people's faces." Daft Punk also says "I don't go where I'm not wanted and I'm not here to push an opinion on anybody."
Whether or not you like Daft Punk's art is irrelevant, what is relevant is that this artist was trying to present their art in a legitimate manner and was rewarded by having his/her entire exhibition removed. How does that encourage street art to take a legitimate route? Artists that were encouraged by Daft Punk's foray into a gallery setting are thinking twice about it now and I don't really blame them.
I believe the energy and resources this city puts into programs to discourage graffiti vandalism could be more creatively spent. Why not encourage more free walls? Why not get rid of the grey and beige walls? Why not encourage these artists when they seek to be recognized in a venue such as the NAESS Gallery? A comment on The Paint Spot's Facebook page by Sara Norquay says "Wouldn't it be great to have a law that makes owners of boring walls get an artist to make them less boring". I'm with you Sara - it would be great indeed.
Whether you like it or not street art is a valid art form and should be given a voice and a space. It's very name suggests that it belongs outside, on the street. It frustrates me that this great city doesn't seem to be willing to accommodate this art form, the hoops and red tape that surround getting permission to brighten up a dull wall or even just a little grey electrical box are so discouraging and intimidating most artists are just not going to bother.
I know we can do better for these artists and hope the discussion continues.