V-TARP: The Vancouver Transit Adspace Reappropriation Project

Image courtesy JermIX

So Banksy declares street art dead and apparently nobody was listening. JermIX certainly wasn’t. Working with UK import Vegas – a stencil artist of remarkable skill – Jerm has launched what many consider his most aggressive campaign ever. VTARP, it’s called. Vancouver Transit Adspace Reappropriation Project. Which sounds like a black line item in the DND budget. But which is actually a guerilla program involving dozens of artists who are putting up art on public transit vehicles in empty ad space.

That’s right. The white space between McDonalds and VanCity ads is being filled with art. And Translink is greatly annoyed, although also a bit impressed judging from their very formal, though very cordial letter sent to the two organizing artists.

Of course it’s easy to see why Translink is concerned. Some of the art in question takes open shots at advertisers. Although seriously, making fun of McDonalds is not the edgiest criticism Translink management has ever encountered, one would hope.

Nevertheless, it is this business of confronting advertisers that clearly has Translink most upset. In the letter to the artists, the unnamed Translink manager (unnamed, that is, as a courtesy extended by Jerm and Vegas in their publicizing of the letter) complains that VTARP is actually hurting revenues.

The letter reads in part:

So while the issues you raise in V-TARP are important, your project is sadly affecting a key funding source to make its point. By taking over our ad space and posting works that criticize our ads, V-TARP is creating a negative impact on TransLink’s relationship with advertisers, which is starting to cost our system in revenue.

As hard as it is to believe that the McDonald’s of the world are pulling out of advertising on Translink as a result of VTARP, it still leaves the artists with a question to answer. Continue and potentially face charges or a civil suit? Or, do as Translink is demanding, that is, cease and desist. In fairness, Translink is also suggesting (without commitment, of course) that they will consider an art-on-the-trains type program for the future, and have expressed an interest in working with Jerm and Vegas.

As I’ve written to Jerm separately, I hope that they continue. Only I also hope they can avoid the charge that they’re causing damage by keeping the artwork non-specific in its editorial tone. If taking a criticism of McDonald’s off the table is their only concession, seems like the cost/benefit analysis might play out positive.

But is the experience of a Translink customer improved by this work? Is the city itself improved? It’s a matter of opinion, but I vote yes.