You may not find graffiti hanging on the walls in an art gallery, but AJA Louden wants to open art lovers’ eyes to the significance and validity of the medium.
Louden is one of Edmonton’s best-known graffiti artists, and he’s working to give people an appreciation of street art as art through his Aerosol Academy program, which introduces participants to the medium, its history and its significance.
“Graffiti and art don’t need to be mutually exclusive,” Louden says. “Something can be both beautiful and illegal.”
Louden started Aerosol Academy about five years ago to bridge the gap between the art programs that schools offer and what got him interested and engaged in art. Participants come from all walks of life.
“It’s not just for youth. I’ve had graffiti grandmas come out, which is awesome,” Louden says with a laugh.
“I have moms that come out with their kids, because they want to have something to share with the youth; same with grandmas trying to close the generational gap. I’ve even had three generations come out [at once] before. It’s a really wide gamut of people.”
During an Aerosol Academy course, Louden educates participants about the tools, techniques and terminology of street art, and busts some myths around the medium, like how it is gang-related – in fact it’s less than three per cent, according to the Edmonton Police Service’s website. In some of his courses, he’ll even take them out to a public graffiti wall and let them get some hands-on experience with a can of spray paint.”Just being able to see people feel inspired or feel powerful, that’s one thing that really comes across for me,” he says.
Louden’s choices for legal wall canvases have been greatly reduced, though, with the discontinuation of the Open Source Street Art pilot program at the end of March. The program had opened up two walls – one behind Tirecraft on 82nd Avenue, and another on the Tweddle Place tennis court building on Mill Woods Road – for graffiti artists to use freely.
Katie Hayes, graffiti project manager for the City of Edmonton’s Capital City Cleanup program, says the pilot project was an “experience of learning,” but the costs were getting too high.
“The expenses associated with removing the graffiti vandalism in the surrounding community area, as well as the cost of monitoring the free walls and the space around the free walls, they were quite costly,” she says, adding that some of the rules for use of the walls weren’t being consistently followed.
Katherine Kerr, public art director for the Edmonton Arts Council, says she hopes that plans to turn the Tirecraft wall and others nearby into a “mural alley” filled with permanent street art – or works that change once a year – will help fill the void.
“For the most part, the art was respectful. It was fun; it was dynamic,” she says. “There was a little bit of spillover, but it’s pretty hard, when you put up panels, to avoid that.”
But not all hope is lost for promising graffiti artists. A third public wall, located at 95th Street and 105th Avenue, is operated under The Works Art and Design Festival’s Art and Design is Public Places Program, and is not affected by the termination of the pilot project.
This article appears in the June 2016 issue of Avenue Edmonton.