The unlikely combination of city staff and graffiti artists are breathing new life into city spaces while curbing illegal vandalism.
Thousands of tourists and athletes will be coming to Toronto for the Pan Am Games later this year, and when they do, the West Queen West BIA plans on offering them a new type of sightseeing trip: A tour of the area’s graffiti.
Robert Sysak, the BIA’s executive director, says city initiatives in recent years have transformed the “war on graffiti” into a dynamic collaboration between graffiti artists and local members of the community.
“We have art in the alleyways, art on all the buildings,” he says. “It changed everything.”
That ‘it’ he’s referring to is the city’s award-winning Graffiti Management Plan, which strives to support and fund graffiti and other street art that brings vibrancy to the city’s streets, while cracking down on vandalism that can negatively impact home and business owners.
The made-in-Toronto plan was conceived back in 2011, says Randy McLean, the city’s acting director in the public realm section of transportation services. The resulting programs have blossomed, bringing on board dozens of artists and offering them opportunities to create striking – and legal – street artwork.
“There was a time when the ‘street vandals,’ if you will, wanted nothing to do with City Hall or the police or anybody,” McLean says. “But this process has been collaborative and has brought those former vandals and artists together… that really is one of the most powerful elements of the whole story.”
He recalls one touching moment in 2014, at the unveiling of a Scarborough mural featuring World War II-era “bomb girls” who worked in a local munitions factory. “When you have these elderly women engaging with young, hip street artists – they would never have met in any other situation,” he says. “It’s beautiful.”
There are now around 100 street artists in the city’s artist directory, which helps connect artists with property owners, and for which the city provides paint, brushes and other supplies. Legal murals have popped up across the city in recent years, on underpasses and high rises from Scarborough to Etobicoke. And last year alone, 210 thousand square feet of graffiti in Toronto was removed.
It’s a win-win, according to Sysak. “For us, it’s a big part of why we became second coolest neighbourhood in the world, according to Vogue,” he says. And indeed, the magazine has hailed Graffiti Alley, “a block where street art is both 100 percent legal and lauded.”
Sysak adds he used to get five to ten calls a week about graffiti tagging in areas higher up than the BIA removes; now, it’s reduced to once a month.
StreetARToronto, an offshoot of the city’s graffiti plan, helps facilitate the creation of artwork throughout the city. Kristina Hausmanis started StreetARToronto in 2012 with a colleague and says city staff began making connections with established, legal street artists to get the ball rolling – who, in turn, connected them with under-the-radar vandals.
A year later, the program hosted an art event near Trinity Bellwoods park, where a series of residential garages facing the park had been extremely vandalized. The event brought together an unlikely mix of people: City staff, local residents, Toronto police, and graffiti artists – both legal and illegal – and gave artists the chance to legally decorate a public space.
“When artists saw police at the events, they’d run away,” Hausmanis recalls. “But over time, we all realized we’re all on the same page. We’re all working to make our city a more beautiful and safe place.”
Angel Carrillo, a professional artist, Parkdale resident and two-decade veteran of the street art world, led that 2013 event; StreetARToronto has since hosted several more. Graffiti will always be around, he says, but the city’s initiatives are a good way to let artists know the city wants to work with them, not against them.
“It opens the communication gap between community and onlookers with the actual artists themselves, and creates a new rapport,” he explains. “They get to see that graffiti artists are not that bad – they’re just misunderstood.”
For the complete article............ March 19, 2015