A Calgary graffiti artist narrowly escaped jail time last week after tagging 46 properties over the past year, and the presiding judge said it's because he has turned himself around.
Jay Crawford had tagged local buildings, train stations and mailboxes before he ended up in court. By the time he faced a judge however, the street artist had stopped tagging illegally and started focusing on helping others express themselves legally by hosting a "graffiti jam" in his backyard every week.
"You've got some talent and you're using it for good, not bad," said provincial court judge Mike Dinkel before giving Crawford credit for 27 days already spent in jail followed by a year of probation and restitution of more than $3,000 for mischief causing damage to property. "I commend you for what you've done. It kept you out of jail today. If you had come here without doing these things, you wouldn't be going out the front door — you'd be going out the back door."
Graffiti is illegal in Calgary and anyone caught tagging can face jail time or fines for vandalism.
Crawford says he started doing graffiti in Ontario, where they have specified sites for legal tagging.
Without that outlet, he says he wanted to give fellow street artists a place where they can express themselves without the risk of going to jail.
"We're making every attempt," Crawford said. "There's no legal venue here within Calgary city limits for the expressionalists and street artists/graffiti artists, writers, etc. to be able to express themselves creatively without persecution or risk of imprisonment."
Graffiti risks Calgary's image, says city
Riley Merluk is one of the local artists who is taking advantage of Crawford's offer.
Every week, he and others come to paint on Crawford's garage, which is then painted over before the next graffiti jam.
Merluk says he doesn't understand why Calgary continues to demonize graffiti while other big Canadian cities support and encourage street artists.
"Give us a space without getting in trouble — that's what Jay has to offer," said Merluk.
"Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, I could keep naming cities that support it and there's one city will will never — Calgary. I don't get it."
It's not clear when or if the city will ever consider a public graffiti wall
According to its Graffiti Frequently Asked Questions website, the street art is incompatible with Calgary's global standing.
"Calgary is an international business centre and so needs to maintain an appearance that is clean, safe and inviting," the site reads. "The city's attractiveness as a place to visit, conduct business and invest in decreases as graffiti and other destructive acts increase."