A photo of Lord Mayor Graham Quirk cracking down on street art at a skate park has sparked debate about the council’s approach to graffiti.

Cr Quirk’s decision to post a photo of himself in hi-vis workwear, painting over graffiti at a skate park in Stafford Heights, has backfired spectacularly, attracting over 220 comments so far — almost all of them negative.

“Each year vandalism costs Brisbane $4 million,” Cr Quirk wrote in the caption accompanying the photo. “I’m asking for your help to put a stop to illegal graffiti vandalism, by reporting it to Council so it can be removed. We are a city that embraces street art — but it’s never OK to paint (or damage) other people’s property without their permission!”

The Lord Mayor also issued a media release in which he stated that more than 78,000 graffiti tags were removed by Brisbane City Council last year.

“Much of the graffiti removed by Council’s Taskforce teams are offensive language and symbols that undermine our city’s reputation as a New World City,” Cr Quirk said.

“We are a city that embraces street art and public murals, but graffiti is where public or private property is painted without approval, and we are commited to putting a stop to it.

“Every dollar that is spent removing graffiti or replacing damaged public infrastructure is money that could have otherwise been invested in other benefits for Brisbane residents.”

Cr Quirk said 115 graffiti vandals were charged with 5,260 offences last year.

The release identified five suburbs — South Brisbane (2,518 tags), West End (2,036 tags), Woolloongabba (1,702 tags), Kangaroo Point (1,314 tags) and Paddington (1,246 tags) — as Brisbane’s top graffiti hotspots.

The council’s highest profile scalp was street artist Anthony Lister, sometimes referred to as ‘Brisbane’s Banksy’, who was found guilty of one count of wilful damage by graffiti in the Brisbane magistrates court last January, though no conviction was recorded.

“There is something wrong with the law if the magistrate can appreciate the value of my work but still find me guilty of wilful damage,” Lister posted on Instagram at the time.

“The legal fight today and yesterday was about my work but in the bigger picture I was fighting for so many other artists that are facing prison sentences for acts of creativity. The legislation concerning graffiti and wilful damage as a result of creativity is in need of a drastic and immediate revision.

“My ‘No conviction’ will allow me to continue travelling and showing my artworks but I am still very disappointed to be found guilty of graffiti. Sadly the loser in this case is Brisbane.”

The Brisbane Street Arts Festival — which is sponsored by Brisbane City Council — is currently running.

Aside from the festival, Brisbane City Council currently runs two street art programs. Brisbane Canvas has placed authorised street art by local artists Frank and Mimi, Matt Stewart, Noke, Kyle Jenkins, Jumbo and Thomas Jackson on walls, pillars and bridge structures around the city, while Artforce enables local artists to apply to paint their original work on traffic signal boxes around Brisbane suburbs.

But there is no Brisbane equivalent of Hosier Lane and other legal graffiti zones in Melbourne that have become popular tourist attractions for their street art.

Cr Quirk’s claim that Brisbane is “a city that embraces street art” has been roundly mocked by commenters on his photo at the skate park.

“Are we really a city that embraces street art? Why not make every skate park in Brisbane completely legal to paint on?” wrote Jasper McDonald Blair. “If there was a focus on getting a broad range of artists involved you could turn each one into an exhibition of Brisbane’s talents? Skateboarding has always been about creativity and skating your own way, why would you want to be surrounded by grey, bland walls? Bring street art out of the shadows and into the makeup of the cityscape. Surely we are past the whole ‘all graffiti is bad!’ argument, look at Melbourne!”

“Please enjoy this picture of Graham Quirk vandalising a skatepark,” wrote Erik Veland.

What do you think? Should Brisbane introduce legal graffiti zones to encourage street art, or is the council doing enough already? Vote in our poll, and have your say in the comments below!

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