Photo and piece by Rebecca Tan. Mural above is from a Downtown Thunder Bay parking lot.
Urban centres across the world have incorporated outdoor art into the character of public spaces as a way of creating more interesting and safer neighbourhoods. When it came time to pick a destination for Quest, Thunder Bay was a no-brainer, given its budding reputation as a leader amongst municipalities in city building through arts and culture planning. It was a priority of mine to touch base with Lora Northway from Die Active, a youth graffiti and urban street art collective, of Definitely Superior Art Studio.
A major issue in Thunder Bay is crime. Crime is a complex issue, representing the convergence of numerous systematic and structural problems. Simply put, there are a lot of reasons why crime happens and understanding how to effectively address it proactively is a broad, systems-changing, and multi-level ordeal. One way that urban planners try to contribute to this process is through designing spaces that will rally communities around a common interest and foster a sense of collective pride. Public art is a fantastic way to do this, and what Die Active does perfectly captures what urban planners* mean when they talk about animating streets, revitalizing communities and designing vibrant, user-friendly spaces.
In particular, there are a couple of convenience stores that are targeted frequently by looters. In collaboration with property managers, the city, community organizations, and the collective, Die Active has completely changed not just the look, but also the feel of a couple of Mac’s locations around town. By engaging different stakeholder groups and nurturing collaborative partnerships, Die Active’s murals have become more than just decorative installations on sides of buildings—they have become visible statements of community values, centerpieces that define the personalities and unique charm of their neighbourhoods and prompt individuals to consider, reflect and engage in conversations about space (real and/or imagined), and whom, if anyone at all, can and should take ownership over them. Over the past few years, in addition to supporting built environment interventions, the city has simultaneously invested in education and community level programing as parts of its reduction strategy, with the hope that altogether, interventions at in multiple systems will contribute to less crime overall.
It truly was a wonderful opportunity to see these phenomenal art pieces in person and to chat with Lora, whose remarkable work is transforming her community. If you’ve ever wondered how they’re done, check this out: https://www.facebook.com/MacsCrimeBusters/videos/408545445927015/
*Urban planners plan, city councils make decisions; a worthy distinction that I’d like to mention