My first encounter with “graffiti” was in the spring of 1995 in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada. I was called by the secondary school principal who asked if I could get on the next plane to teach art as an emergency replacement until the end of the year. I had previously taught art, music, and drama throughout the Northwest Territories before I returned to pursue my masters’ degree in fine arts, and then doctorate in education in Montreal, Quebec.
Upon my arrival I jumped into projects that stalled because I had not taken the time to develop a rapport with the students. As I reassessed my expectations, someone from the Department of Tourism asked if the students could spray-paint images on garbage cans to be distributed throughout town. I hesitated, since the stereotypes of tourism already influenced the arts so strongly in the Arctic. I accepted the free spray paint and garbage cans because it gave us an opportunity to work outdoors in the sunny spring weather. A group of boys who had previously worked as a group to disrupt the class now collaborated on a detailed stencil design of the word “garbage” along with images of actual garbage. When it came time to paint, they grabbed the spray paint and yelled, “Yeah, graffiti!” With great excitement they literally danced around their can, intent on their skills, especially in trying to prevent drips. They looked so out of control, I had to turn away to resist my impulse to intervene. In the end I was surprised at their intense motivation to paint on a garbage can and the pleasure they took in painting the word “garbage.” I appreciated the irony