PHOTO ESSAY: The graffiti of Aro Valley can polarise
ARO VALLEY has long been known and loved as an eclectic, opinionated community that embraces art and colour.
However, it is a fine line between art and unwanted graffiti, and business owners are worried people are not responding quick enough to deter taggers.
The Wellington City Council, which spends more than $600,000 each year on graffiti, takes the stance that graffiti is a community problem, not the sole responsibility of the council and a new strategy next year will underscore that stance.
According to the council’s website, graffiti vandalism, or tagging, is “the act of a person damaging or defacing any building, structure, road, tree, property, or other thing by writing, drawing, painting, spraying or etching on it, or otherwise marking it”.
They specify this is “without lawful authority, and without the consent of the occupier or owner or other person in lawful control”.
The city of Wellington has been found to have some of the highest incidence of graffiti in Australasia. In August 2012, Tasman Research gave the city a score of 72/100 for graffiti cleanliness. Auckland scored 96/100 and Lower Hutt scored 90/100. The average in the UK was 92.
While their businesses are affected by incessant tagging, I found not only irritation but also compassion, humour and life lessons while venturing up the valley.
A ‘nice canvas’
HELEN Daly, owner of Skinfocus, said while the prolific tagging was a great pain to clean off, said that sometimes when she has been scraping tagging off from her frosted window she has felt compassion for the taggers – “oh well, it is a nice canvas,” she thought.
She said street art like what used to be on the Garage Project building were an important part of the Valley.
Her landlords hate the taggers, which she said is good for her because they keep on top of it.
It would be more of a hassle if you own the building, she said, sympathetically pointing out tagging on artist Ron’s studio across the road, which he owns.
“I probably wouldn’t appreciate it if they did my sign, but I don’t get affected as much as others do,” she said.
Art or tagging
DONNY Cuzens, Barista at Aro Café, said that if people are tagging someone’s property for no artistic merit and just for people to get some shits and giggles, he equates it to teenagers knocking over a letterbox with a baseball bat.
Their café storefront gets tagged at least once a week, and it is a pain and expensive to clean up. He said all the council does, and can do, is clean it up sometimes.
However, street art is something else altogether, he said. “It requires effort and some creative spark, and it is unfortunate they are sometimes both viewed the same was by the council.”
Wellington City Council spokesman Richard Maclean said the line between street art and tagging is where it gets interesting.
“There’s always big debates out there about the difference,” he said. “We know there’s lots of people out there who say, ‘leave it alone it’s street art’ but others say, ‘no, no, it’s graffiti, cover over it.”
He said unless something is a mural or art that the council or property owners have commissioned themselves, then the council has to paint over it, because “one man’s street art is another’s graffiti”.
Mr Cuzuns said he thinks it is a shame that nice street art is sometimes painted over.
“You can always tell if something is street art because it gives character to the area,” he said.
It’s not cool
VALERIE Hitie, manager of AroBake bakery and café, said she is really against tagging. “It’s not what Aro Valley is all about. It’s not cool.”
HARRY Sukhalal, owner of Aro fruit supply, said tagging is everywhere on his shop, and he has to keep painting it all the time.
“I never complain [to the council], because they should know, it’s pretty obvious – you can see it. And they’re often across the road fixing [the Four Square].”
He said he doesn’t own the building his shop is in, but has to look after it himself because the landlords don’t have a vested interest in his business.
“The people that own the building don’t care,” he said. “I don’t want my business to look yucky so I clean it. If you have a junky looking shop you’ll get junky customers.”
“It’s becoming more and more,” he said. “They tag this shop any time of day or night, you’ve got no idea.”
He said he is too busy to monitor it, and he will often sleep and it will be there the next day. “There’s no limit to it, and no particular time. They do anything they like.”
He thinks New Zealand needs a tough law to deal with it, because at the moment the police do nothing and let taggers get away with it – despite having camera footage from cameras across the street.
“It’s pointless to go to the police because they do nothing here,”
He said the problem is a societal one. “You go to [the taggers] house and it’s their parents that are to be blamed. For example, if I’m drinking, smoking, and gambling, what do you think my kids are going to do? If I hit my wife, my son is going to hit his wife. People don’t realise how much parents affect kids behavior.”
“I heard a man say, “my son’s an idiot” because his son took his car and banged it up. I said to him, “son not idiot, he’s watching you sleep with other women not mum, and he’s mad. So he took the car and smashed it. Come on, it’s as simple as that!
“Then they say, “I look after my son,” and I say, “well why don’t you look after your wife?” You can’t be a good father but a bad husband. A good husband is automatically a good father.”
Murals not tagged
“I”D like to give them some paper to draw on,” said Heather Patterson, manager of the Saint Vincent de Paul’s second hand shop.
Ms Patterson struggled to find civilized words to describe how annoying she finds the tagging on her shop. “It gets right up my nose, it’s really annoying to put it nicely. But who do you complain to?”
She said the council does their best but they can’t deal with it. She has one of her volunteers cleaning the tagging, which occurs at least once or twice a week.
“It’s rude painting on anybody’s property,” she said, “and it’s not as if you can just wash it off.”
She said she thinks some of the taggers have talent – “there’s got to be something we can do, maybe give them a big billboard that they can paint on?”
However, she thinks taggers seem to want to claim a ‘spot’, and the ownership aspect of it shows in how people don’t tend to tag the murals in the Valley.
Ms Patterson likes the murals and would like to see more, after getting over the initial shock of how weird she finds them.
She said she rarely understands what the tags on her shop say – although the other week, she had one where the words were clear.
“It had at least four ‘F’ words in it, and I thought ‘oh no, I have to get this off before the kids all come down the street’.”
Regional strategy coming
MANJU Patel, owner of Patel’s Superette, said they are stuck in a cycle. “All the time we paint, and they do it again, we paint and they do it again.”
She said sometimes the council will paint over the tagging, but soon enough there will be new ones.
By March 2014, Wellington City Council aimed to have in place operational guidelines to implement a ‘Regional Graffiti Vandalism Prevention Strategy.’
This strategy, in place until 2017 and modeled in part after those of Auckland and Melbourne, is supposed to “set prompt and consistent time standards to remove graffiti vandalism.”
A report acknowledges that if graffiti vandalism is left for a long time it tends to quickly spread.
From lengthy experience with tagging, she said leaving tagging encourages it to continue, whereas if they paint over it will stay untouched for a couple of weeks before taggers start again.
“It’s really hard for our business,” she said. “Sometimes customers will say things about it to us. If I paint over it then they are really happy. If it’s not nice looking then they don’t like to shop here.”
More tagging recently
WHILE there has always been graffiti in Aro Valley, for many years Aro Video has generally been left alone – until recently, said owner Andrew Armitage.
He said in the last two years it has become an incessant problem for them. He thinks it is because the longer graffiti is left, the more it encourages it.
In his view, graffiti in general in the Valley has become worse because the council and business owners haven’t been getting rid of it straight away.
Mr Maclean said it is up to businesses to remove tagging on their own. “Ultimately it’s their property and we would expect people who have had stuff tagged to look after it themselves.”
However, the Polhill reserve sign up Aro Valley remained covered in tagging for over a year, one resident said.
Mr Armitage said his store had tagging on their billboard for a long time – about 18 months – just simply because it was too hard for him to get up there to white it out.
It is too easy to become lazy about it, he said, and put off dealing with it until the next day, and then the next.
“It’s easy for people to say, ‘gee I wish that owner would do something about that graffiti’. But if you aren’t prepared for it by having a bucket of paint in the right color and a ladder ready on had then it’s easy to fix, it just becomes too hard.”
However frustrating he finds it, he said he considers tagging to be a mild form of vandalism. “It’s not an act of sabotage,” he said, “it’s just disrespectful and an annoyance at most.”
He said tagging in Aro Valley wasn’t such a big deal as in some other wealthier areas, where it can seem more affronting on more groomed properties. Aro Valley, he said, isn’t as developed as some people think it is, due to the student population and young people staying on in the valley after university.
“This Valley is a nice pocket and it has a strong communal identity.”
“If you are caught in the wrong mood you would want to strangle them,” he said of the taggers.
However, he said due to the lingering recession there are a lot of people without jobs and “better to be tagging than throwing bottles through windows or robbing petrol stations, you know what I mean?”
“I don’t like it of course, but there are worse things.”
Win-win with street art
JOS Ruffell of Garage Project sees the brewery as a hub for street art.
The renovated garage-turned-brewery has been black for the first time ever, waiting for the next street artist to paint it.
Aside from deterring “random indiscriminate tagging,” he said having street art covering the business helps keep it fresh and interesting, also complimenting the artistic style they like to bottle their beer in.
It is a win-win situation, because the artists enjoy having an entire building as a canvas.
He said they think so highly of street art that when they moved into the garage they kept some of the boards that boarded up the windows because they liked the graffiti.
“There is a sausage-brained cat eye which is really cool,” said Mr Ruffell, “we made sure we preserved that.”