StART It Off Write

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(above: Trinity Bellwoods Laneway)

Last year StART funded a number of beautiful wall projects in Toronto in 2013. It was over one brisk October weekend between the launch of the Peperonata Lane project at Bickford Park and the Faile ribbon cutting ceremony on Davenport that Wllnttz was introduced to StART.

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(above: Councillor Mike Layton (right), Bickford Park)

We know that many of Toronto’s legitimate graffiti artists and public muralists have benefited from StART. Despite all the work this municipal funding program has accomplished much ambiguity lingers. It was clear. We needed to get a better understanding of this program.

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(above: Faile wall, Davenport)

We did learn that there is a perceived stigma associated with the program. This is due to its city funding and past roots. In the early ‘90s the city founded the Graffiti Transformation program intended to beautify Toronto while providing youth with summer jobs. Youth would cleanup tags and paint murals. The program was run out of community centers, with a focus on youth involvement, employment and experience first. In many cases the art came second. These murals were often tagged. It was disheartening for the youth and counterintuitive against the city’s effort to mitigate graffiti.

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(above: Simon of Spectrum Art Projects, Patrick McNeil of Faile, Councillor Joe Mihevc)

In 2011, council unanimously adopted the Community Management Plan. The plan outlined four key areas. One of these was the promotion and recognition of street art. This objective resulted in the creation of Street Art Toronto (StART).  The funding from the Graffiti Transformation program was allocated to StART.  Their mandate was and is to enhance public partnerships while elevating the level of street art in our city and to celebrate it.

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(above: photo of the Aaron Li-Hill wall, Parkside & Lakeshore)

In tandem, with the launch of StART, came the new graffiti bi-law. The bi-law gave Toronto its first legal graffiti area, Graffiti Alley, from Spadina to Bathurst. It also, controversial to many, defined graffiti art and graffiti vandalism. The city defined graffiti as legal when the property owner gives their permission for someone to paint their property. This being said there is no reason for a property owner to approach the city to legalize their wall. Bi-law officers don’t take paintings to the graffiti panel unless there is a complaint about it. If there is a community complaint, bi-law officers are required to investigate. If the bi-law officer deems the graffiti as vandalism they will give the property owner a notice of violation. The property owner then has three choices. They can then choose to clean it up; they can say they I like it, it fits into the community, and I’d they would like to keep it; or they can say that they commissioned the work.

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(above: The opening of the Adrian Hayles piece, Oakwood & Vaughn)

If graffiti does make it to the graffiti panel, made up of city staff, anyone may advocate for it. The graffiti panel meeting is open to the public.  Those wishing to keep the piece should be prepared with reasons to keep it, such as the value it adds to the community. To date, any piece that has been personally spoken for has been saved.

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(above: Birdo, Trinity Bellwoods Lane)

One aspect StART would like to stress is that its priority is the art. The program promotes and utilizes the skills of legitimate graffiti and public mural artists. The artist directory is part of promoting and supporting artists. It has been a successful way to link property owners with artists. The idea is to encourage property owners who face frequent vandalism to hire an artist to beautify their property, rather than constantly painting over tags. There is no vetting process for the directory. Submit your name, contact information, and some photos of your work. As long as you are legit you’ll be added to the directory.

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(above: Bruno Smoky & Shalak Attack, Bickford Park)

The city has approximately $350,000 to be administered for grants starting in the spring. The maximum grant is $30,000. Artists need to receive the grant through a non-profit organization. Priority is given to projects with high visibility to the public realm, areas targeted by graffiti in the past, artistic merit, and projects that do involve mentorship of emerging youth artists. For instance, StART funded four Diversion and Education Program projects in 2013. This program assists at risk youth and young adults who have been arrested for graffiti vandalism, vandalism or mischief, to return value to the community through repairs, graffiti removal, and other community beautification activities.

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(above: Tensoe2, Bickford Park)

The message is clear from StART. Whether you are property owner or an artist, StART is off write this year and beautify Toronto.

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