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Colourful retirement for Porirua’s creative thinking graffiti manager

Sep 9th, 2011 | By | Category: Featured Article, Front Page Layout, News

TREVOR Mason is retiring for the second time, satisfied that in the past two years he has helped decrease Porirua graffiti by 30 per cent.

Turning problems into opportunities has been the key to success, says the graffiti management co-ordinator for Porirua City Council.

“I wanted to do something different, and I wanted to do something that would make a difference in our community,” says Mr Mason, who previously worked for the Tertiary Education Commission for 40 years.

The job sometimes involves dealing with the mayor at the beginning of the day and the Mongrel Mob at the end, he says.

“Porirua City Council has given me enormous freedom to operate in, really they are giving me permission to be creative.”

The $1.2m Porirua Railway Station upgrade earlier this year, was an opportunity for Mr Mason to be creative and also to involve the community.

Mr Mason worked in partnership with Whitireia New Zealand Polytechnic to commission 11 local artists for the project.

“The artists were an eclectic mix,” he says of the team, who painted the ramps and stairway at the train station, completing a total of about 300m of murals.

Wellington Greater Regional Council and New Zealand Railways Corporation liked the idea, and nearly five months later the works were painted, graffiti sealed and the pieces of work have not been damaged since.

“It has now become a community gallery as opposed to a community eyesore,” Mr Mason says.

“We know from international research that if you put high quality artwork up it has a far less likely chance of being vandalized, and that’s proven to be the case.”

This was an approach used with another project completed in April this year, where 380m of artwork were painted to cover the path and stairway from Mungavin Ave to McKillop St.

There were concerns about the car park in the area where people would loiter around, Mr Mason says.

BRIGHT THINKERS: Trevor Mason with Mungavin Ave project managers Liana Leiataua and Charlie Devenish.

“It’s just a bit of an unsafe place for people to go to and it’s not what you’d expect to find around a number of kōhanga reo and primary and intermediates.”

The schools got involved with the project, and with a number of community groups, they were all given paints and allocated a space to paint in.

“Over the next six or seven months all of that artwork went in, it’s really amazing what these kids have done in these communities.

“The community was really rapt, they have now claimed that area and are protecting their own walls.

“So there’s another way we’ve engaged the community and empowered the community to move from being in a victim place to being in an ownership place.”

There are 12 residents associations in the Porirua area that communicate with Mr Mason’s team to identify any graffiti vandalism issues in their areas and recruit volunteers.

Apart from big one-off projects, part of Mr Mason’s role is to manage the constant graffiti initiatives in Porirua, such as the Adopt a Street programme.

Anyone can sign up to adopt a street where they live or pass each day.

Their job is to ring the Porirua City Council contact centre when they notice any graffiti so it can be dealt with straight away.

The police are providing an anti graffiti programme for intermediate and secondary schools to educate kids about the impact of graffiti.

The programme is called Tag Free Kiwi and was adopted by the Porirua City Council after it had been trialed in 26 Auckland schools.

Mr Mason says it is being taught in eight schools currently and teaches students about what graffiti is, what is the cost of graffiti and “why wouldn’t we do that in our community”.

“By doing this over the next 3 to 5 years, we will shift the views of all the youth in our city.

“It’s only a really small group of kids that are the worst offenders in our city. The damage could be attributed to as few as maybe 30 kids with quite a number of copycats but most kids grow out of it.”

Last year Porirua established a regional graffiti forum with adjoining regions, key people in the area and also the police headquarters in an initiative to stop tagging.

“There’s a big graffiti war going on which most people don’t realise, they think it’s just the kids in their own area but it’s actually people who [might] travel from Paekakariki who come here to tag our city.”

Mr Mason says having a regional graffiti forum means being able to share community intelligence, which they have been doing with an electronic system.

“You’re able to track the people who are coming from other places because we’re using an electronic PDA system to record all our tagging.

“We can track any tagger that we’ve got in our system and instead of going to court for just one tag we can take him to court for 150 tags that he’s done.”

Porirua has been using the system for a year so far and it is so successful other regional councils have now adopted the same technology.

Mr Mason says graffiti will never be eliminated.

“What you can do is you can dramatically reduce it and you can make the consequences of doing it so unrewarding that taggers move on.

“[Taggers] know that if they are tagging in Porirua, their stuff is going to be knocked down quickly, they are going to look for a place where they can do it where it isn’t going to be knocked down.

“So the offenders will move on, quite a lot of the kids will just stop tagging.”

While he has achieved a lot as graffiti manger in the last two years, Mr Mason’s main career was as a risk management specialist.

One of his final roles was working with the government funding strategy, managing the performance and quality of research in New Zealand universities.

“It was a behavioural shift that we wanted to bring about in universities so they can be accountable for their performance.

“When you’re building a knowledge based economy, high quality research is really important.”

Mr Mason also managed key strategic projects for the universities, polytechs and wānanga.

He has now involved Whitireia Polytech students in his Porirua role to explore another ground-breaking concept – a graffiti virtual city where graffiti artists can show their work online.

The new graffiti management co-ordinator is Richard Witheford-Smith, pictured above with Mr Mason and a railway station wall.

Mr Witheford-Smith was previously a community worker and he taught at an alternative school for troubled kids and has worked with Mr Mason in the past.

“He’s an interesting guy and we have quite a lot in common, he understands how communities work and knows how to engage people,” Mr Mason says.

Porirua City Council’s general manager of asset management and operations, Peter Bailey might say the same can be said for Mr Mason.

“It’s fantastic,” Mr Bailey says of his work, in particular the railway station upgrade.

“That was really the icing on the cake, what the artists created together as a group was much better than what they would have achieved individually.

“I think the city was very lucky to have him for the period we did.”

Throughout his career, Mr Mason has worked with many key people, projects and communities, and now he intends to work on another colourful side of his life.

“I’m a painter and I’m a songwriter so one of the things I want to do in my retirement is to be able to paint and write, and to ride all over the place on my mountain bike and spend time with my family.

“I had only ever intended to come here for a short time, it’s just been a blessing, a wonderfully rewarding two years.”



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