ACT News

New graffiti co-ordinator in the ACT aims to beat illegal tagging

Removing illegal graffiti costs the ACT government more than $500,000 a year so it has appointed the territory's first graffiti co-ordinator to help reduce that cost.

The new co-ordinator, Louise Emberson, 32, originally from England, has been in Australia for the past two years. She has a masters in art and a background in working with the arts and the community.

The ACT's new graffiti co-ordinator Louise Emberson with legal street art in Tocumwal Lane off Garema Place.
The ACT's new graffiti co-ordinator Louise Emberson with legal street art in Tocumwal Lane off Garema Place. Photo: Rohan Thomson

She will be reviewing the city's 23 legal graffiti sites and identifying new ones in an attempt to get illegal artists to divert their energy to those areas.

An interactive map of the sites is expected to be released soon by Territory and Municipal Services.

"We have a graffiti management strategy that was written in 2010 and it's been updated every few years and it's really bringing that holistic approach in prevention including working with the police in terms of illegal activities," she said.

"Instead of just saying, 'We're going to remove tagging,' it's about talking to school groups, it's about community awareness, social media, making the website better to highlight the fact we've got 23 legal sites.

"And it's also about linking artists with private property owners who have walls available for the art."

She would be liaising with businesses, artists and others in the community to identify possible new sites for street art and working with contractors to remove illegal graffiti.

TAMS planning and programs manager Patrick Nolan said illegal graffiti cost the government more than $500,000 a year to remove.

He said the graffiti co-ordinator position had been approved for six months at a cost of $45,000 to $50,000. It would be up to the government to extend the role.

Mr Nolan said the directorate could distinguish between what was acceptable graffiti and what was unacceptable graffiti.

"If someone is trying to do artwork, I'm quite happy with that," he said. "If someone is just tagging public fences, private buildings, all the way down Northbourne Avenue, then I'm not happy with that."

Mr Nolan said some young offenders had been involved in the ACT Restorative Justice program, with some positive results.

"They bring their parents and their parents are very often shocked and embarrassed that their children are doing it," he said.

Canberra CBD Limited chief executive officer Jane Easthope said private building owners were collectively also paying hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to remove illegal graffiti.

She said the co-ordinator position was much needed and welcomed, not least to encourage the creation of more street art such as that Canberra CBD Limited had funded in locations such as Tocumwal Lane off Garema Place. 

"We get the opportunity to provide the walls as canvas for street art and I'm really looking to finding a style that is true to Canberra," she said.

Ms Easthope said illegal graffiti was a big problem for the owners, especially in some areas of Braddon and the Melbourne and Sydney buildings and the back laneways.

"We have tagging occurring on a daily basis," she said.

Ms Easthope said she hoped the co-ordinator position would result in illegal artists becoming recognised, appreciated artists.

Artist Geoff Filmer, from the collective Graffik Paint, which had produced street art including at Tocumwal Lane and Erindale bus station, said he believed illegal graffiti tagging went deeper than just the thrill of "getting away with it".

"It's the kind of thing that happens because kids are feeling frustrated with their situation, with themselves, they want to be someone else, that's why they pick names and create their own identity," he said.

"Tagging is about talking to their friends, they're not talking to us. How you break that is by showing those kids you can go to places, paint big walls and get more rep by doing it that way than by running around vandalising the streets randomly.

"The kids are suffering from not having anything to feel good about themselves. We need to give them something to feel good about."