It isn’t often kids get the chance to spray graffiti on the wall of a business, with the blessing of the business owner and the help of police.
But that’s exactly what happened at the Mac’s Convenience Store location at 647 Second Line West Monday.
Three Sault elementary school students, under the guidance of Toronto-based professional graffiti artist Magic Finnga Wong, tried their hand at graffiti in a project operated as a partnership between Mac’s and the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service.
“Mac’s has reached out to us and what we did was hold a contest in town with kids who go to school in this area and we asked them to draw what they felt best represented Sault Ste. Marie, and we want to include those in a mural on the wall of one of the Mac’s stores,” said Constable Sonny Spina.
“Their artwork was fantastic so we picked four standouts (one student was unable to attend Monday)…what we’re trying to do is engage with the local youth in a positive way and teach them there is a positive aspect to some of this art and that’s why we have Magic here to instruct them about the best way to go about things like this,” Spina said.
Unauthorized graffiti is still officially illegal and classified as mischief, punishable by fines and/or imprisonment, or the offender being ordered to clean up the graffiti.
The mural started Monday at the Second Line West Mac's, however, was officially permitted by Mac’s and its Sault Police partners as part of a program Mac’s is carrying out in several Ontario communities this summer.
“There are studies that show we can actually decrease the amount of graffiti in an area when we can take the time to educate people. There’s no sense in us trying to strictly use enforcement on people, we have to start a conversation with people in our community,” Spina said.
Spina and two other Sault Police officers also took part, spraying graffiti on the Mac’s wall with Magic Finnga Wong and the students, posing for a group shot and a selfie.
Wong (born as Basil Jardine) has created several murals for Mac’s stores across Canada in a youth crime prevention program.
“We did murals on the walls that had been tagged to prevent them from being tagged again, and it turned into such a great project that it even started to deter crime inside those stores,” Wong told SooToday, adding he is still constantly learning and being inspired by young artists.
In agreement with police and academic research, Wong said studies have shown graffiti artists and taggers are not as likely to spray a wall if it has already been covered with a mural, out of respect for the work of other artists.
Studies also show a business owner who takes the time to paint over graffiti and tagging on his or her store as many as three times (as bothersome and annoying as that is) is not likely to be targeted with graffiti further, the graffiti artist or tagger sensing the futility of their actions.
Sean Sportun, Mac’s Convenience Stores manager of security, who travelled up to the Sault with Wong from Toronto, said Mac's mural projects started in 2012 in Thunder Bay as a response to crime issues at a Mac’s location in that community.
“We thought what would happen if we engaged the youth, the police, the politicians, and we haven’t had incidents at that store since then, so we branched it off to the Toronto region. It caught the attention of Harvard University to do a case study on the effect of street art, engaging the community and police, and now Harvard is funding the program,” Sportun said.
Students chosen to participate in Monday’s exercise included Joshua Eder, an Isabel Fletcher Public School Grade 7 student.
“I missed my bus one day and when I got to school there were police officers there and I thought ‘oh no, what’s happening?’ then they told me I won a contest (to take part in the graffiti project) and then I thought ‘phew!’” Eder said.
Eder said he enjoyed seeing police officers also taking part, adding he is thinking of being a police officer one day.
“Street art is usually seen as negative but it’s kind of cool the police are into it too,” said Alexis Koehler, a Holy Family Grade 8 student.
“I was excited and happy to be chosen…I want to be an artist,” said Chloe Shier, a St. Francis French Immersion Grade 3 student.
Wong will be busy this week, creating the mural at the Mac’s Convenience Store location at 647 Second Line West, which will be officially presented Thursday, as well as painting a separate mural with a Soo Greyhounds theme at the Mac’s location at 655 Wellington Street.