It’s the 14th anniversary of the City of Ottawa’s Paint It Up! initiative, and there is only one day left for community groups battling graffiti and encouraging mural artistry to apply for funds.

The April 4 deadline is the cutoff for groups hoping to hire local youth to participate in the initiative.

Paint It Up! is a youth engagement program that aims to reduce vandalism in the community while promoting outdoor murals, supporting local arts and cultures and beautifying Ottawa neighbourhoods.

Once funding is granted, groups can hire young artists to cover over tagging and other forms of graffiti and vandalism.

Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney said the program has proven effective over the years.

“I’m seeing a far less number of tags,” said Tierney. “People take actual appreciation in the Paint It Up! Murals — it’s almost like that’s off base for taggers.

“I don’t know what the direct correlation is, but certainly I’ve seen a lot less tags in my neighbourhood.”

This colourful Paint It Up! mural is near the Jack Purcell Community Centre in Centretown. [Photo @ Riley Murphy]

“I think it’s a really good project that gets communities together,” added Tierney. “Especially the youth — they take pride in that.”

Tierney is one of many who feels young people gain significant experience from the program.

I think it’s a really good project that gets communities together.

Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney

John Heckbert, executive director of Operation Come Home, said he believes the project has made an important difference with kids he has worked with.

Operation Come Home, a centre that helps homeless and street-involved youth, has worked with Paint It Up! multiple times.

“We work with youth that are experiencing homelessness here in Ottawa and that’s our primary constituency that helps with these projects,” explained Heckbert. “A bit of extra income for those youth is obviously super helpful. They use it for whatever they need — clothes or supplies, any basic necessities.

​​”They talk to people that live in buildings that get tagged, like a restaurant who we talked to back in the Gilmour Street project.” says Heckbert. “They talked about how they’re trying to run a small business, they’re feeding their family and everytime they get tagged, they have to pay $800, $1,100 to repair the brickwork.”

“So,” continued Heckbert. “They (youth) learn that they can start to feel a sense of pride in what they can do. They feel pride in the mural that they put up.”

Many other organizations in Ottawa, such as The Door Youth Centre, have also had positive experiences working with Paint It Up!

Youth involved also explore their artistic capabilities by working with professional mural artists.

“They learned how to properly do a mural through the help of various artists,” noted Malik Ayess, executive director of the The Door.

The young people in the program are encouraged to think artistically, explained Ayess.

Tierney said the city is hoping to receive as many applications as it did in pre-COVID years, and early indications were that interest in obtaining grants for planned murals was strong.

“We’re going to see lots of great illustrations,” said Tierney. “We want to see a lot of people submit, and hopefully, we’ll beautify the city more.”