As I was driving home from Glacier and Waterton this weekend, I was struck by the persistence of the damage done by the Montana Meth Project’s “Paint the State” campaigns from 2006 and 2010, in which young people across the state were encouraged to paint signs detailing the dangers of Meth, particularly seeming to focus on the campaign’s then-ubiquitous “Not Even Once” campaign. As I saw walls in Drummond and barns on the Front covered in fading paint, I couldn’t help but think about the damage the Montana Meth Project did to our state.
And today, the Montana Meth Project announced it wants to encourage more propagandistic vandalism.
At the risk of sounding quite curmudgeonly, I hated the campaign when it was initially run, and I hate it now. Encouraging young people to paint over beautiful old barns and community walls with artwork that is often quite ugly in the belief that it will somehow convince people not to use meth is not only absurd, but does real damage to the state. I can’t imagine that a tourist coming to Montana is encouraged when he/she is confronted with the image of someone dying because of meth and told, visually, that Montana is a state awash in a meth problem that simply never was.
While the guidelines for the Paint the State program do encourage students to get permission first, the suggestions are hardly going to beautify the state—and include “a painted vehicle on the street,” “a mural painted on a grain silo,” or a “concrete sculpture visible from the road.” As the most basic level, the timeline for the project, announced in the media today and to be completed by mid-July, will encourage haphazard, poorly-conceived works of “art” across the state. It’s almost certain that, if anyone pays attention to this latest campaign, the result will be more damaging propaganda, with little artistic value, slapped all over the state.
I would put aside my curmudgeonly objection to making our state less beautiful and damaging our perception if the Montana Meth Project worked. The truth is, as I have written about before, it does not. According to the Montana Office of Public Instruction’s 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 96.4 % of Montana students said they had never tried meth. Researchers who have done actual academic work have concluded that there is “little evidence of a relationship between the Meth Project and meth use among high school students” and that, even worse, “The campaign has been associated with increases in the acceptability of using methamphetamine and decreases in the perceived danger of using drugs. These and other negative findings have been ignored and misrepresented by the MMP.”
Fortunately, this latest effort to get some attention from the news seems like the dying gasp of a fading institution. While a report for 2014 is not yet available online, the IRS 990 Form for the Meth Project shows an organization fading in significance, declining from $1.6 million in gifts and grants in 2010 to $246,644 in 2013.
Despite this precipitous decline in revenue and significance, the Meth Project still saw fit to reward its executive director with a salary of $130,770, more than 53% of the program’s revenue.
There is, of course, a real problem with meth abuse in Montana, one that has exploded under the watch of the Montana Meth Project. As the Bakken oil boom developed, meth once again became a major concern in Eastern Montana, particularly in Billings, where “Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito called meth the top public safety threat in Billings for the way it fuels other, sometimes violent crime.”
Vandalizing the state’s visual treasures hardly seems a way to combat that—and it’s time for the Montana Meth Project to fold up, before doing any more damage.