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cityscape

City Staff Will Decide Whether These Murals Are “Vandalism” or “Art”

A new graffiti panel will sit in judgment of disputes over the cultural merit of specific pieces of wall art.

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Next Friday, for the first time, a panel of City staffers will sit in judgment of paintings on the exterior walls of private property. They will decide whether the paintings are “art,” and therefore exempted from enforcement, or “graffiti vandalism” that must be removed at the property owner’s expense.

The murals pictured in the gallery above are the ones the panel will be discussing. They could be removed in their entirety if the panel condemns them.

How did civil servants come to be the ones making art-or-vandalism determinations? It started when Mayor Rob Ford was elected.

The City’s graffiti panel was voted into existence by city council in summer 2011, as part of a package of reforms to Toronto’s graffiti bylaw. The reforms were prompted by an anti-graffiti enforcement blitz launched by Mayor Rob Ford shortly after he took office. Before, it had been up to councillors to decide whether or not a piece of graffiti qualified as an “art mural.”

The new graffiti panel is non-political. Its membership consists of City staff who oversee things like facilities management, parks, and public art. The idea is for them to apply the City’s policies in a more consistent way than politicians were able to.

Not every case will get a public airing. The graffiti panel only comes into play when a property owner appeals a vandalism violation, or when the City’s licensing division refers a case to the panel.

The panel will decide whether graffiti murals meet the requirements for permitted “graffiti art,” which the City defines like so:

…markings made or affixed to property that are approved by the property owner or occupant, where the markings aesthetically enhance the surface they cover and the general surroundings, having regard to the community character and standards.

Click through the gallery to see some of the paintings that will be under discussion at the graffiti panel’s first real meeting (there was also a procedural meeting, in October) on November 2. All of these murals are seeking designation as “art,” to avoid future violations. Even if the graffiti panel decides a mural is artistic, it has the power to issue new violations for any tags on top of it.

All photos screencapped from City staff reports.

UPDATE: November 5, 2012, 2:30 PM This post originally omitted an image of a mural at 1255 Queen Street, one of the nine under discussion at the graffiti panel’s November 2 meeting. The image has been added.

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