iN PHOTOS: Kelowna businesses using graffiti to stop graffiti - InfoNews

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iN PHOTOS: Kelowna businesses using graffiti to stop graffiti

Lars Alexander Widell is midway through a wall mural at Don't Look Down Tattoo's on St. Paul Street in downtown Kelowna.
March 23, 2018 - 6:30 PM

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KELOWNA – The City of Kelowna says there's been a rash of tagging of both private and public property in downtown Kelowna the last few weeks. They say it will cost thousands to repair, however some local businesses aren't worried. They're fighting fire with fire. 

Graffiti Eradication and Prevention Coordinator Scott Isfan says law enforcement officers "can’t be everywhere, all the time,” and announced the City of Kelowna would partner with Crime Stoppers to offer a $500 reward for tip from the public that leads to an arrest. Prior to this announcement, the reward was only given after a conviction in criminal court.

Lars Alexander Widell, 38, is a single dad, and a local graffiti and tattoo artist. A few years back he noticed the owners of the Rutland Convenience Store were repeatedly painting over a wall that was being tagged. He approached them with an idea to paint a mural and they agreed. 

The tagging, he says, stopped.

“So far it’s worked well,” he says. “It’s never been touched once and it’s been up for six or seven years. I feel like when you put a lot of effort in to make something really nice, people don’t fuck with it.”

The Rutland Convenience Store hired Lars Widell to paint a mural on a wall that was being targeted by taggers. He says it hasn't been touched since.
The Rutland Convenience Store hired Lars Widell to paint a mural on a wall that was being targeted by taggers. He says it hasn't been touched since.

Widell questions the City’s claim they received more than 6,600 service requests for the removal of graffiti since 2014 – an average of 4.5 calls per day, seven days a week.

“That seems far-fetched,” he says. “I feel like that’s not even close. Graffiti is not a problem in this valley, period. I’m comparing it to any major centre, even Vernon. Vernon is way worse than here.”

Widell has been hired to paint walls all over Kelowna, including Don’t Look Down Tattoo on St. Paul Street and the City even hired him to brighten up Duggan Park on Bernard Avenue in 2006. He says it's an easy and effective way to brighten up an otherwise dreary area and wants to see more of it. 

“It makes the alleys less scary. It makes people feel more comfortable walking through them,” he says. “And for people who are living on the streets, we are creating a new living space for them, which can inspire them, I think, to maybe start making positive changes in their own lives.”

He says rather than putting money into a tattle-tale system, it too should go to something more positive.

"There used to be a hierarchy in graffiti," he says. "You had to get grandfathered in. You paint under their eye and they help you. They kind of nurture you and teach you."

Widell knows the name but not the identity of the one person he says is responsible for all the illegal tagging in Kelowna. Even though DYMO is the only artist ever to "tag over" one of Widell's pieces, he doesn't blame him for trying to express himself. A few years ago he approached the city with an offer to oversee a graffiti wall somewhere out of the way where taggers could gather and learn from each other.

“He’s the only kid that’s been tagging in town the last three years, but he doesn’t know any better,” he says. “He doesn’t have anybody showing him, no, you don’t do that. There are no rules anymore.”

Hemp City and the Bohemian Cafe have incorporated graffiti art into their locations on Bernard Avenue.
Hemp City and the Bohemian Cafe have incorporated graffiti art into their locations on Bernard Avenue.

Wall art by Lars Widell in Duggan Park on Bernard Avenue.
Wall art by Lars Widell in Duggan Park on Bernard Avenue.

The Film Factory in Kelowna's North End.
The Film Factory in Kelowna's North End.

Knox Mountain Market on Ellis Street.
Knox Mountain Market on Ellis Street.

A wall mural by Lars Widell at Don't Look Down Tattoo in downtown Kelowna.
A wall mural by Lars Widell at Don't Look Down Tattoo in downtown Kelowna.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED

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