Art heals, cruisers don’t

Local muralist weighs in on the use of art in the Waterloo Regional Police Services’ equity, diversity, and inclusion initiative.

On the same day as the commencement of the Derek Chauvin trial in the United States – already a heart-wrenching day for those following the case — Waterloo Regional Police Services (WRPS) announced their new “diversity cruisers” initiative on their social media platforms. My heart instantly sank the first time I saw the decal for these police cruisers — it looked a lot like my artwork. Sure enough, it wasn’t long until I began receiving the exact messages I was dreading: 

“Did you design the new police cruiser decals? Is this your work?” 

I’ve worked full-time as a painter and muralist in Kitchener-Waterloo (KW) for a few years now. I had the pleasure of painting several murals for both the City of Kitchener and Waterloo, local organizations, and small businesses around the region. Because of my consistent use of a ‘continuous-line’ drawing style, I have often been associated with this art style locally. 

The new WRPS decal artwork also uses ‘continuous-line’ drawings consisting of various people, objects, and animals meant to “capture the spirit of Canadian newcomers, as well as African, Carribean, South Asian, and Arabic cultures.” I was horrified to see simplified drawings of these cultures, symbols, dance, and even sacred prayer displayed on the back of a police vehicle. Although I could see the clear differences between my work and the artwork WRPS commissioned, I knew it would be mistaken as the same by many.

I was hesitant at first to make a statement about the “diversity cruisers”. I wanted to make it clear that I had no part in this initiative, but I also did not want to make this about me or my work. ‘Continuous-line’ drawing is an art style that’s been around for decades; anyone can use it and make it their own. The type of artwork WRPS chose to commission for this project is such a small sliver of the issues with this initiative. Dressing up police cars for the appearance of inclusivity is inherently wrong given the undeniable reputation of policing in marginalized communities. 

Local arts can be so positively impactful and unifying when organized mindfully. I think back to a project I worked on with Textile Magazine. We created a collaborative patch-work mural with Indigenous youth to explore and acknowledge our connections to the land. It was a beautiful project that included the community it was intended for. 

I personally create art with the hope that it will encourage young BIPOC artists to take up more space in the region’s predominately white art scene. Art has the potential to shape and grow communities. The WRPS “diversity cruisers” are a demonstration of how to misuse art for harm rather than good.

Over 3000 people have signed this petition to cancel this extremely ignorant WRPS “diversity” initiative along with the many statements from community leaders with calls to action. I will echo these calls to action below:

  1. Discontinue this “diversity cruiser” and “trading card” project immediately.
  2. Publicly provide a detailed, itemized accounting of the total cost of this project.
  3. Donate the total money spent on this project to Black- and Indigenous-led community organizations that provide community-led, culturally appropriate, life-affirming supports and services to residents of Waterloo Region.

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