Two decades ago, the district of Hochelaga-Maissoneuve, a once mighty industrial hub in East End Montreal, was in the midst of the same decline that Detroit, Manchester, Pittsburgh and other Western World centres were suffering.
Abandoned buildings became havens for young squatters from across Quebec and Canada. In the wake of these young aimless migrants, the same horsemen of the Apocalypse are always sure to follow: Crime, poverty, addiction and homelessness.
Brimming with energy and creativity, these youth looked for outlets for their talents and their rage. Graffiti murals soon covered brick walls and temporary wooden fencing. Drug dealers, pimps, gang leaders all saw their opportunity when government services did not immediately move in to provide support. Kind-hearted, decent adults tried to make a difference.
Seeing how art, music and dance could provide outlets, one of these do-gooders, Raymond Viger, set up the Café Graffiti, his famous youth drop-in centre and arts studio. He began publishing the Journal de la Rue/Newspaper of the Streets, which became Reflet de société in French and The Social Eyes in English.
People all over the French-speaking world know. They visit Café Graffiti live and via the web; they listen to the CDs and read the publications. They apply the lessons learned here to similar situations in other cities and towns with similar needs.
Now, the vast English-speaking world can see what’s going on here, and adapt and adopt the arts-directed, positive Café Graffiti approach to your part of the world. In turn, we’ll accept your suggestions and submissions. This is your voice too. Art is a living, breathing means of expression, a two-way street.
Folks in France are especially entranced by the Café Graffiti approach – in that Old European country one needs a specific certificate for everything, it seems. The multitasking approach practiced in Quebec by Viger and his team is fresh and dynamic. They innovate and operate in society’s darkest reaches – alleyways, crack houses, even prisons.
And that is where I was found, in a jail, via Jean-Pierre Bellemare, another inmate/writer who has won awards as one of Quebec’s magazine journalists of the year. A former newspaper journalist and editor, I have been able to practice my pre-arrest craft to the benefit of hundreds of thousands of French speakers. The Café Graffiti goes wherever there is need. And like Raymond, I can use my hell to benefit others who might be going down that dark road themselves.
I find myself gradually released back into society, I will help more and more. Able to correct my karma, one word, one hand, at a time – honored to be a part of it. Read on, and be a part of it too.