PHOTOS: Kamloops has a hidden gallery of legal graffiti

If you've been underneath the north side of the Overlanders Bridge you may have noticed a lot of bright colours lately.

That's because the concrete pillars have become a city-sanctioned space for graffiti artists and spray can hobbyists.

The ever-changing walls are thanks to Landon Muzio, the owner of 808 & Bench, a shop selling street art supplies alongside skateboards and clothing.

"All the pillars on the North Shore, except for the ones that are in the water, are legal and they are available for the public to paint freely on," Muzio tells KamloopsMatters. "Anything that's above the pillars, like the metal bracing, the framework of the bridge, anything above that is considered still illegal, but any concrete pillar section is all legal."

That opens up hundreds of square feet for local graffiti artists to show off their skills, or get some practice on a wall.

"The wall is free to use, so keep in mind your art will be painted over eventually," Muzio points out.

As the wall's caretaker, he'll be down there on a regular basis to look after things, be that covering up derogatory language, cleaning up the area a bit or painting over old art to give new artists a chance to participate.

The walls were approved by the city earlier this summer; so far, the arts community has been working on them with gusto. Several pieces have already changed over.

Sanctioned street art walls aren't new, in Canada or in Kamloops, but they're rare. Across Canada, Muzio only knows of a handful. In Kamloops, there were some, but they had to be shut down.

"The City of Kamloops had walls before — they were legal — but there was no curating involved, so basically it spread everywhere like a disease," Muzio says. "The RCMP wasn't happy with it, the city wasn't happy with it, so they closed the door."

"Now that my business is connected to the wall, it's insured through me and the city and the store and I'm curating it. I feel like it's going to be a positive step."

Part of curating the public space will be watching what goes up on the wall. Muzio says certain topics are off-limits: hate speech (obviously), overtly religious or political statements or derogatory pieces.

"Basically, common sense of stuff that will disrespect or insult another individual," he says.

He's hopeful that by providing graffiti artists in Kamloops a space to be creative and show off their skills, it'll deter illegal painting.

"I feel like this is a better approach instead of just being authoritative over it," he says. "If you just give out fines or give records to kids who are painting, it doesn't solve the problem. It just gives that kid a record and it doesn't really ensure that he's not going to do it again."

Muzio says he and 808 & Bench will work with the RCMP and bylaw officers who catch kids spreading graffiti around the city, and help guide them toward a better outlet for that energy.

"It's not rehabilitation, but it's more like a step in the right direction," he says. "Instead of imprisoning them for their creative works, we're giving them an opportunity to do something positive and influence them to embrace it."

As the city increases the number of public art projects around the city, the wall can act as a training ground for new artists, Muzio says.

He's also hopeful the activity around the pillars will deter homeless activity at the site. While the shore under the bridge is popular with beach-goers, sometimes homeless camps are set up in the area.

The walls are open to anyone to check out or paint on from sunrise to dark. A sign will be installed to explain the rules at the site. Muzio adds that while the pillars under the bridge are part of the sanctioned area, the underside of the bridge and metal sections are not.

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