TEENS picked for graffiti workshops to keep them out of trouble are preparing to showcase their work to thousands.
The 13 to 19-year-olds, some of whom are so talented they have already sold several pieces of artwork, spend one night a week honing their skills at legal street art sessions at the LAZER Centre in Armley, Leeds.
And now an exhibition of pieces produced by around 25 of the youngsters and featuring some of their largest pieces plus canvases, photographs and collages, is going on display at two Leeds shopping malls, The Light and the St Johns Centre.
Aspiring artist Elliot Wigzell, 20, who volunteers to help on the scheme, said being given the chance to exhibit their work was a real confidence booster for the youngsters.
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He said: "A lot had trouble at school and it's one of the only activities that they turn up for on time – obviously they get a lot out of it."
The scheme was launched around two years ago by Leeds City Council Youth Service. It was aimed at reducing antisocial behaviour around Queenswood Drive and Woodbridge Estate.
Young people who were "tagging" and carrying out illegal graffiti in the area were encouraged to explore their creative side in a legal, supervised setting instead.
Leeds City Council spends around 586,000 a year cleaning up graffiti; Wakefield Council spends around 60,000 a year and Kirklees Council spends approximately 110,000.
Leeds youth work manager Vince Foster said: "We have been successful, it's hard for us to say for definite but I know young people that have been on the project that have said 'we have stopped graffiti-ing and tagging outside and now just do this'."
Because of the positive response the project was extended to teens across the city, who were referred to the service by youth workers or police as offenders or youngsters deemed likely to offend.
Around 15 teenagers – mostly boys – attend the weekly sessions and since its launch around 250 young people have benefited from the project.
They don't just use spray paints, they also learn new techniques, producing works on canvas and using computer technology to bring their designs to life.
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The group has now had work commissioned, once for a Leeds school and incredibly also for Belle Vue Police Station in Hyde Park, demonstrating the improved relations between officers and the young people as a result of the scheme.
The graffiti workshops are part of the Urban Arts Project run by the Youth Service, offering a range of activities for young people, including DJ sessions, street dance classes and CD making.
The exhibition at The Light, on the Headrow, is from this Friday to Friday, February 20 and the artists will be there to share their thoughts on their work and the scheme at the official launch on Monday.
The show at the St John's Centre, between Merrion Street and the Headrow, is from February 23 until March 20 and will include street art workshops, when teens can learn artistic techniques or simply watch the artists in action.