Vancouver graffiti gone wild
Vince Dumoulin was once a self-described criminal. He spent his early 20s jumping freight trains. He’d start in Montreal and make stops in Toronto and Calgary before arriving at the end of the line: Vancouver. He says he was a drifter with shoplifting and petty theft as his only means of income.
Along the way, Dumoulin slowly gained a rap sheet that inevitably caught up with him. By 2004, he’d been charged with theft and was routinely failing to appear in court. Run-ins with the police were almost daily, Dumoulin told the Straight.
“I was at a point where I had to make a choice,” he said in his apartment in the Downtown Eastside. “It wasn’t going to keep being petty crime. It was a decision of whether or not to get more hard-core and really dive into the criminal’s do-or-die mentality.”
Then, when he was in a rundown Vancouver apartment late one night, the police came by to check in on a friend of Dumoulin’s. One officer with an interest in art recognized Dumoulin and noticed a few of his drawings lying around the place. That chance encounter was the excuse Dumoulin had been waiting for. With his girlfriend’s help and the faith of a cop, he got out of the life.
Dumoulin will be spending the next few weekends working on a mural on Beatty Street between Dunsmuir and Georgia streets. If you were to head down there and spend some time with the artist, you’d never guess that anything sordid lies in the young man’s past.
Now 28 years old, Dumoulin has been working with the City of Vancouver for the past seven years. When anti-Olympic graffiti appeared around sports venues just weeks before the start of the 2010 Winter Olympics, city hall called Dumoulin. And despite the fact that the city had just painted over a large mural that the artist admired, he quickly agreed to lend a hand.
Dumoulin buffed out the illegally painted message, “With glowing hearts we kill the arts,” and replaced it with “Beatty Street mural coming soon”—words that Vancouver’s taggers have heeded. (The wall has remained graffiti-free ever since.)
“Pissing off graffiti writers is always dangerous because you never know how they are going to retaliate,” Dumoulin remarked on the incident, laughing. “If you are going to start pissing off the artists, then you’re making every wall out there a sitting duck for vandalism.”
And so in the coming weeks (dates depend on weather and funding), it’s Dumoulin you’ll find overseeing a small team of artists painting a mural that stretches an entire city block.
He said that the plan is for a festive atmosphere with local artists hard at work, photographers such as Vancouver’s ubiquitous Kris Krug documenting the mural’s creation, and what Dumoulin hopes will be hundreds of people coming by to see what’s going on and just hang out.
So how did a man once seemingly dead set on going nowhere end up as the city’s go-to guy for public murals and graffiti crisis management?
A big part of the answer lies in a program for which city council recently voted to withdraw its support. What’s more, those budget cuts—decided on in December—eliminated the city’s entire graffiti-management program, with its array of tools long used to support public art and keep Vancouver’s graffiti problem at bay.
City hall is quick to point out that it is strapped for cash and that cutting the park board’s graffiti-management program is saving more than $300,000 a year. But a range of critics argue that in the long term, the cuts could end up costing the city more than it saves. What’s more, it’s not just money that is at stake.
Dumoulin says that what really helped him escape a life of crime and illegal graffiti was finding an alternative, legitimate outlet for his artwork. That was Restart, a restorative-justice program started in 2004 by Vancouver Police Department officers Valerie Spicer and Elizabeth Miller and since run by volunteers.
“The [graffiti-management program’s] mural program was just starting back then,” Dumoulin said. “And she [Spicer] gave me an opportunity to transfer my community-service hours from doing something totally irrelevant, like working in some thrift store or something, into being a mentor for the Restart program. So I jumped on it.”