‘BORED’ Youth: When Making Mud Pies and Getting a Job Gets Boring

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Last week’s announcement, from the Sault Ste. Marie Police, that a nine month investigative effort by the Criminal Investigations Division led to the arrest of an 18 year old graffiti artist elicited a mixed response from the community. The ‘BORED’ youth was charged with 41 counts of mischief under $5,000 and 2 counts of Break and Enter. On two occasions the youth entered the former Sir James Dunn site slated for tear down to apply his graffiti.

The police beat update about the arrest on sootoday drew comments from folks that cheered this kid’s arrest:

“Keep him in a cell for a while and let the little ‘pos’ spray paint in there.”

“Very simple, make the loser clean it up, and remember his address is [deleted].

“The hard working people of Sault Ste. Marie do not want to see graffiti, they want it stopped and those criminals and parents accountable for their actions. Inclusively property owners should be reimbursed for the damages incurred. If we do the simple math of this one alleged (accused) of 41 counts, it costs roughly $800-1500 to remove one instance of his vandalism.”

BORED graffiti featured behind the Board Mill at Mill Square. Visible from the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge.

BORED graffiti featured behind the Board Mill at Mill Square. Visible from the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge.

Other commenters admired the talent that went into the graffiti work:

“Man, I have seen that word “bored” spray painted in so many spots throughout the city. It looks beautiful though.”

“This guy was awesome… there are a few spots in this city that just seemed impossible… but our “bored” friend got to them…”

“I think the obvious is being ignored here. Our city officials would rather give a young boy a criminal record and only recognize his faults. What about the fact that he’s an amazing artist. I have seen many of these accounts around town and I think he has extreme potential. One of those graffitied businesses should hire him to finish the mural he started, give him a job. Can’t be bored then.”

West end wall - Second Avenue and Wallace Terrace.

West end wall – Second Avenue and Wallace Terrace.

And of course there were pop shots against the Sault Ste. Marie Police:

“That is a lot of Officers to send for a suspected graffiti artist.”

“Yeah this is sure keeping the public safe!”

“The streets of the Sault are safe once again. Graffiti artist taken down…everyone can sleep better tonight with this dangerous spray painter in custody…Thanks to the k9 unit, justice was swift and direct. All is well in our sleepy little town once again.”

Rooftop behind Queen Street business.

Rooftop behind Queen Street business.

The arrest of the BORED graffiti artist comes nearly on the heels of NORDIK Institute’s anticipated release of their final report Graffiti Reframed. The project was a collaborative effort between NORDIK and the Arts Council of Sault Ste. Marie and District. The project engaged 200 people and partnered with community organizations such as the Downtown Association and the Sault Ste. Marie Police.

"Sault Ste. Marie constantly berates anybody who has committed a public offence through public humiliation vis a vis the online posting of public statements. I understand the importance of it when it's a threat to a community but when you have an 18 year old kid who is speaking out against a system that he doesn't like and... you ostracize him for that? What do you think is going to happen to this artist who is already expressing that he doesn't feel like he is part of this community? That's what he's saying when he printed 'BORED' across a wall." ~ Liz Cooke

“Sault Ste. Marie constantly berates anybody who has committed a public offence through public humiliation vis a vis the online posting of public statements. I understand the importance of it when it’s a threat to a community but when you have an 18 year old kid who is speaking out against a system that he doesn’t like and… you ostracize him for that? What do you think is going to happen to this artist who is already expressing that he doesn’t feel like he is part of this community? That’s what he’s saying when he printed ‘BORED’ across a wall.” ~ Liz Cooke

Liz Cooke, a youth and an Action Research intern on the project, has lived in Sault Ste. Marie for seven years or so. “I genuinely love Sault Ste. Marie. Sometimes I don’t know why and other times I know there is no other place that I would like to be.”

In a conversation with the Northern Hoot, Cooke drew on research and personal thought when speaking about graffiti’s ‘place’ in Sault Ste. Marie and the community’s response to graffiti. “Graffiti is only graffiti when it’s not allowed. The second you are given permission to do it, it is no longer graffiti, it is public art -which I think is fantastic. I’m for public art. I’m disappointed that Sault Ste. Marie does not have a public art policy to this day. It’s a pathetic aspect of our city and the fact that our youth are literally ‘bored’.

Authors of the Graffiti Reframed report identified that “several scholars have postulated various underlying motivations for why people engage in acts of graffiti, including belonging to a sub-culture, the cultivation of a sense of identity, the desire for respect, peer imitation, the thrill associated with risk or provocation, and acting out of boredom.”

"Young people have a lot of things to say and a lot of things that they want to do. But we need to create the spaces around the City to let them do that. Youth want to action, youth want to do things. We need to trust people under 25 to figure out what needs to be done." ~ Dr. Gayle Broad, Director of Research, NORDIK Institute

“Young people have a lot of things to say and a lot of things that they want to do. But we need to create the spaces around the City to let them do that. Youth want to action, youth want to do things. We need to trust people under 25 to figure out what needs to be done.” ~ Dr. Gayle Broad, Director of Research, NORDIK Institute

Dr. Gayle Broad, Director of Research with NORDIK Institute, provided that there is an ongoing responsibility for the Sault Ste. Marie community to be inclusive of the youth voice. Of the BORED graffiti artist Broad remarked, “He sent us a very strong message that we need to understand. This community does not feel like his community. He does not feel like there is anything interesting or exciting or anything that he wants to be a part of. And that’s not his individual problem. That’s our problem as a community. If he’s saying that –‘bored’, forty-one times how many other youth are feeling that too?”

Ben Date is a 17 year old student at Superior Heights High School. “This guy is BORED! I sympathize with him.”

Having only discovered the work of the BORED artist because of the recent media attention around it, Date remarked, “I like it. It’s pretty cool that there were 41 of them –that takes a long time and it’s in some interesting places. It’s a statement too because it is kind of boring in this city. There’s not a lot to do. It was a platform for him to get his message across. He definitely had his own reasons for doing what he did. He was going out of his way to make sure his stuff was noticeable –by the bridge, all the way up on tall buildings. He was clearly dedicated to get ‘that word’ around the City.”

"We're a City that is surrounded by one of the biggest fresh water bodies in the world. And the only people who can have fun there are people with transportation and a lot of money. Why do you have to be wealthy enough to own your own camp and your own boats? You would think that there was more organized water activities for people in the summer. And there should be more opportunities for people with less money to do stuff. We don't even have venues for youth. All of these venues that we have these events held at are primarily used for other things, or for adults, so they're just being temporarily transformed so it's not a fun vibe when you are there." ~ Ben Date, 17 years. old

“We’re a City that is surrounded by one of the biggest fresh water bodies in the world. And the only people who can have fun there are people with transportation and a lot of money. Why do you have to be wealthy enough to own your own camp and your own boats? You would think that there was more organized water activities for people in the summer. And there should be more opportunities for people with less money to do stuff. We don’t even have venues for youth. All of these venues that we have these events held at are primarily used for other things, or for adults, so they’re just being temporarily transformed so it’s not a fun vibe when you are there.” ~ Ben Date, 17 years. old

While ‘art appreciation’ is always subjective Date, though not an artist himself, appreciates the expression and would like to see more graffiti around Sault Ste. Marie. “It’s an art form. Sometimes tasteful graffiti is a lot more pleasant to the eye than a decaying, unpainted building. There might be this gray building, peeling paint – really depressing, and then you see this vibrant graffiti and it’s nice. I’m not talking about vulgar graffiti, I’m talking about something that takes some skill and time to make and is a pleasure to look at. I do like it.”

So what is the appeal of graffiti to the younger generation?

Dr. Broad offered some thoughts. “I think there’s a lot of reasons it appeals to young people. It’s very inexpensive. I think the fact that you do it after dark has a certain appeal for young people and because it’s seen as a bit of a rebellious activity. The research shows that young people don’t feel engaged and they are trying to send that message to the powers that be -the powers that they perceive are in control of the agenda of the community. And it also has that arts component. It allows them a freedom of expression.”

Would a public space that provided young artists the opportunity to paint the walls solve what many community members view as vandalism? Not likely. As Cooke eluded to earlier, once permission is granted the appeal to spray paint vanishes. Why?

“Because otherwise graffiti artists are just reinforcing the authority that they don’t like. If you do it in a way that has been told is ‘ok’, then you’re telling them back that what they are doing is ‘ok’. By participating in a system that is forced upon you, you are giving consent for that system to continue,” remarked Cooke.

"I think graffiti is an opportunity for businesses to connect with youth in the community. The Sault is one of the rare places that has a lot of talented young artists. I've travelled a lot of place but the Sault really stands out to me for that. I have a lot of friends that are trying to do grassroots things with art and I hear a lot of frustration when they are dealing with their Council or people in administration levles for trying to get support, trying to get their projects off the ground. A lot of thme are amazing projects that could do amazing things for young people." ~ Kyle 'Kowgli' Chiblow, Hip-Hop artist and Pow-Wow drum, singer

“I think graffiti is an opportunity for businesses to connect with youth in the community. The Sault is one of the rare places that has a lot of talented young artists. I’ve travelled a lot of place but the Sault really stands out to me for that. I have a lot of friends that are trying to do grassroots things with art and I hear a lot of frustration when they are dealing with their Council or people in administration levles for trying to get support, trying to get their projects off the ground. A lot of them are amazing projects that could do amazing things for young people.” ~ Kyle ‘Kowgli’ Chiblow, Hip-Hop artist and Pow-Wow drum, singer

Cooke’s comment harkens back to the common motivations of graffiti artists. “It comes down to the value of subsidiary. When people walk in with authority and an action plan to solve the problems as ascribed to that group, they are not going to solve the problems of that group without having a genuine connection and conversation with that group to identify what the problem really is and how they see it being solved.”

As Ben Date put it, “In order to know what people want, you have to actually ask people. And if you’re interested in youth, you have to let all the youth talk.”

Date has plenty of thoughts about what would make Sault Ste. Marie more inclusive for young people and elaborating he added, “I think there needs to be more youth speaking at City Council meetings –and I’ve heard this around my school. If you let people –kids, get involved and didn’t make it a snoozefest, I think you could get a lot of youth contributing their thoughts to the City and talking about what could be done to make this community more relevant to us.”

The Graffiti Reframed report indicates that municipalities across Canada adopt various strategies to manage acts of graffiti in their communities. Approaches range from removal on public property, to fines, to educational programs/restorative justice and to plain ole’ acceptance of graffiti as a reality. Communities that employ an acceptance approach to graffiti host murals, develop temporary art opportunities, designate sanctioned areas for graffiti and involve community through graffiti education, as well as creating a social economy by establishing recurring events, festivals and celebrations around graffiti art.

"My gut reaction is that it wasn't a good use of police time because things like outreach programs that NORDIK is trying to develop, want to take that energy that kids have to create kids have to create graffiti and do good things with it. The accused in the BORED case had to climb up and down to do stuff like that. It's like the police are chasing Spiderman instead of the community finding a way in which these acrobatic artists can be involved with community. Conversations about this need to do in a direction about things that have to change. i would talk about the abandonment of the downtown. When there's businesses open in the evening, when there is anything for youth to do in the evening it's giving youth something to do. This spaces of highly privatized, highly owned properties are suppose to be making people money, not getting defaced. But if they just sit there, kids are bored and this is what happens." ~ Sam Decter, Community Artist, Business Owner

“My gut reaction is that it wasn’t a good use of police time because things like outreach programs that NORDIK is trying to develop, want to take that energy that kids have to create graffiti and do good things with it. The accused in the BORED case had to climb up and down to do stuff like that. It’s like the police are chasing Spiderman instead of the community finding a way in which these acrobatic artists can be involved with community. Conversations about this need to do in a direction about things that have to change. I would talk about the abandonment of the downtown. When there’s businesses open in the evening, when there is anything for youth to do in the evening it’s giving youth something to do. This spaces of highly privatized, highly owned properties are suppose to be making people money, not getting defaced. But if they just sit there, kids are bored and this is what happens.” ~ Sam Decter, Community Artist, Business Owner

Regarding the economic costs of graffiti upon society, Dr. Broad offers a fresh perspective. “What about the money spent on a police investigation to find this young person? And add to that the cost of his charges, court time, access to legal aid, any incarceration time. Plus, what about his lost options when it comes to having had criminal charges against him? There is a real economic cost to excluding youth from feeling that they are a part of the community. And that’s what this is all about.”

So what’s to be done with a graffiti artist that has been criminalized?

Cooke is not unsympathetic to property owners who don’t want to host graffiti works on their walls. “I think the consequence for displays of graffiti should be restitution, repairing the damage –especially for youth. And there needs to be community support to alleviate what made that person do that damage in the first place. That’s the only way that the graffiti problem is going to be solved. Until we actually talk to youth in the City and have grassroots movements to get them engaged in the community we will constantly have BORED youth.”

Date would like to see an opportunity for the graffiti artist to continue his work in the community. “It’s not like it was a vulgar word, and it was a very well done word with all the artistic depth he put into it. He didn’t seem to choose any spots that would harm people. He didn’t spray paint the front of a business. He would spray paint big, boring walls and walls in run down areas. It didn’t seem like he was out hurting people or out to create misery for business owners. He didn’t spray paint across the front of a business or a store, taking away its’ merit. You could almost- depending who you are, keep it up there and get other people to do the same thing and make a really artistic wall with other graffiti artists. It would be pretty cool.”

Dr. Broad hopes that should the BORED artist see the inside of a courtroom that alternative outcomes as opposed to corrective consequences are reached. “There is an opportunity here for our Courts to be creative and to find solutions that will actually benefit the community as opposed to punitive measures that aren’t likely to benefit the community. And what I understand that the research shows is that punitive measures rarely benefit the individual.”

Wallace Terrace and Borden Avenue area.

Wallace Terrace and Borden Avenue area.

(feature image: rooftop corner of Queen Street East and Elgin)

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