Café Graffiti : 25 Years of Involvement

A year of celebration and change. The Café Graffiti celebrates its quarter century while the Journal de la Rue celebrates its 30th birthday. The adventure began with the Journal de la Rue, the first French-speaking street newspaper in the world. It was followed in 1993 by Macadam in France and by l’Itinéraire in 1994.

Hip-hop graffiti had barely taken its place in Montreal. After 5 years of street work, the organization is involved with 125 marginalized young people, mostly aged 16 to 25 and driven by urban culture. At their request to have a place to gather, to have the freedom to create and to be seen on a commercial artery, we rent a restaurant redecorated by young people to create the Café Graffiti.

The young people had asked us to have a storefront on the commercial artery of Sainte-Catherine. No question of hiding in a side street. Young people want to be seen and heard loud and clear. They want visibility in the neighborhood to show that they exist, that they are artists in their own right.

The breakdancers invade the dance hall. In front of the windows, the public crowds to admire the ardor of the young artists.

The organization gave them the means to become more professional and to manage to create their brands, their events and to shape their personal and professional lives. After 25 years, thousands of young people have used the services of Café Graffiti. Today, having become professionals, they find themselves in different trades and professions, all over the world.

The public first heard of Café Graffiti in 1997, when young graffiti artists created a 150-foot-long canvas mural at Place Hydro-Québec. Nearly thirty media, French, English and international came to interview them. 22,000 spectators were immersed in the hip-hop universe. And events quickly followed one another at a hellish pace.

Let’s Break the Taboos

At a time when many were still questioning the legitimacy of this culture, Café Graffiti is breaking taboos. In a 2,200-seat hall, a show features a symphony orchestra and breakdancers on the same stage. The stage had to be extended to accommodate all these artists at the same time. A giant screen 60 feet wide allowed the audience to see the whole work.

For the Orgue et Couleurs concert, graffiti artists, breakdancers and rappers form two teams with classical organists playing Casavant organs in a church.

To gain access to the main stages of major festivals, Café Graffiti created the Off-Francos for five years, allowing more than 150 urban artists to perform each year in front of a crowd that was always asking for more. In the 5th year, urban culture gains its letters of nobility and inherits a main stage at the Francofolies.

Two months a year, for more than 10 years, graffiti artists appeared in the windows of Simons stores across Canada. For the majority of artists, it was their first contract as a professional.

Café Graffiti has been a leader in allowing urban culture to take an important place on the cultural scene of Quebec. Artisans of Hip hop culture will quickly become professional artists and some are now recognized as internationally.

A Winning Recipe

Several secrets created the winning recipe for Café Graffiti. To name a few:

Adaptability: from street worker from 1992 to 1997 to community worker by intervening with young people who leave the streets for the Café Graffiti.

Nothing is impossible…as long as you have the adrenaline to make your dreams come true.

Believe in young people and their potential even in their marginality.

Provide projects that produce an opportunity to realize yourself as a young person learning responsibility.

The adrenaline of positive projects must exceed that of illegality.

Know how to withdraw and leave room for young people. When young people became professional muralists, the organization did not compete with them.

The originality of these projects has allowed some artists to tour the world. They have developed their art in contact with artists from different cultures.

The experience will have been beneficial for young people who have become adults. Exciting but also exhausting for those who accompanied them. A new team is preparing to take over. New young people with new needs are on the horizon.

A story to follow.

Raymond and Danielle

French version on the Reflet de Société website

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