An alley behind Ross Street has been transformed into a vibrant corridor of community engagement over the summer months with the painting of a mural on the wall behind the John Howard Society’s building at 4916 50th St.
The mural has come to be known as ‘Art Alley’ and was created by a five local artists employed under Steve Woolrich and SeCure Consulting Solutions in collaboration with the City and the Downtown Business Association.
Jackie May, community facilitator of social planning for the City of Red Deer, explained the hopes of Art Alley was to, “Bring new connections and activity to the area and to create a safer space that is more visually pleasing.
“People are walking back there now to see it, people slow down now to look at the art instead of speeding down that alley and it has started a lot of great conversation,” she said.
Woolrich, whose background is in crime prevention and criminology, and his team of artists spent the summer painting multiple murals that in whole make up one large mural spanning the length of the block’s alleyway.
He explained the principle behind Art Alley is known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED).
This means that by designing the environment in a specific way, practitioners of CPTED hope to in turn reduce crime, such as graffiti tagging.
The practice of CPTED has been utilized in a number of spaces throughout Red Deer including the Geishas painted on the front of X-Static Night Club, as well as the mural of a red deer on Little Gaetz Avenue.
“To revitalize some of these areas that have higher crime rates or high levels of graffiti tagging, is a great opportunity to turn things around and to beautify it,” said Woolrich. “While before some people may not have walked down this alley because it may have seemed unsafe, people are now taking the time to stroll down it and stop and appreciate the art.”
Woolrich explained the City of Vancouver, headed by Sgt. Val Spicer of the Vancouver Police Department is among those leading the way in the use of CPTED and graffiti reduction.
Spicer and her team, through the use of CPTED and other principles, saw an 80% reduction in the number of recorded graffiti instances over a period of three years.
“Clean cities without litter and graffiti make people feel good, and when people feel good they will use the civic spaces provided for them and when the right people are using the civic space you will have less crime,” said Spicer. “You want people to feel good in the environment and that’s basic CPTED.”
Graffiti reduction has been a successful crime prevention tool for the City of Vancouver, with Spicer stating that one report shows, “Twenty five per cent of graffiti offenders progress to violent crimes.”
Spicer and the Vancouver police employed the use of murals much like those in Art Alley on spaces which were seeing high volumes of graffiti tagging, which contributed greatly to the success of their graffiti reduction program.
Much debate has arisen in Red Deer after the creation of the Art Alley surrounding the issue of street art versus graffiti. While Spicer and the Vancouver Police Department’s approach to graffiti is that it must be seen as crime on every level, Woolrich said it is hard to draw the line when it comes to street art and graffiti.
“Ultimately, the difference between art and graffiti comes solely from permission. If you have permission to do something from the building owner then there is your green light, but if you don’t have permission then it is seen as vandalism, no matter how intricate and beautiful the piece is. The minute you don’t have permission, it is illegal but there is still a difference between your typical vandalism graffiti tags and gang tags and beautiful well made street art.”
The Art Alley project has also created a social aspect in which Woolrich and his team have helped to mentor high-risk youth clients of the John Howard Society.
“The artists are really looking forward to the process of mentoring some one who has experienced certain challenges in their life as it is clear the youth has a talent and passion for art and it is a golden opportunity for mentorship,” said Woolrich.
He stated he hopes the City will explore more options for community murals in the future.