A new City program hopes to stamp out graffiti by connecting business owners and mural artists.
In the hopes that authorized murals will be a key weapon in its ongoing war against tagging and graffiti vandalism, the City is experimenting with a new way of promoting the spread of legal street art: the StreetARToronto Directory, an online database of over 30 artists who can be hired to do large-scale outdoor paintings for local businesses and individuals.
“It’s part of the graffiti management plan that was adopted by the city council in July 2011,” says Elyse Parker, the City’s public realm director. “It’s a holistic approach to managing graffiti vandalism…and part of that was support for legitimate street art and the street art community [as well as] better coordination between the city and various business improvement areas.” The idea is that taggers might be a little more hesitant to spray their name up over a mural, as opposed to a blank wall.
Parker says artists were selected for inclusion in the directory based on their portfolios.
“We ask to see either a portfolio or a website,” she says. “That way we can see what they’ve done and make sure they’re a good fit.”
Angel “Cruz1” Carillo is one of the artists who has signed up to be part of the database. The 37-year-old started writing graffiti more than two decades ago, and is now a respected mural artist. He says that while he hopes the plan will work, he’s still not sure the City understands how to engage with mural artists—who, by and large, come from the graffiti community.
“Toronto is such a big city, but it never allows artists to express themselves fully,” he says. “They say, ‘We’ll give you a canvas, but [the subject matter] has to relate to this.’ That doesn’t interest the artist.”
He says that if the program is going to work, the City and local businesses will have to relinquish creative control to the artists they hire.
“If you’re hiring me to do my style of art, let me do my style of art,” he says. “I don’t want to be institutionalized or puzzled in…In Montreal, Vancouver, cities in Europe or South America, the artists are the artists, and the cities back up the artists. They don’t really ask what you’re putting up. Toronto looks at those cities and goes, ‘Why can’t we be like that?’ You have that, you’re just not letting us be.”
He points out that murals will only work to discourage taggers if they’re done by artists who are respected by the graffiti community.
“They’ll find a guy who does nice canvas work and have him do a mural, and in a month or two it will be all tagged up, because he doesn’t have that street credential,” says Carillo. “And [the City] is trying to learn their way around that.”
Even with all those reservations, Carillo says he’s ultimately in favour of anything that will allow him—as well as the new generation of street artists coming up behind him—to get wider exposure and get paid for their work.
“[Programs like this] are helping push the new artists out there,” he says. “And it’s not about, ‘I’m going to take my cut.’ It’s about, ‘I’m going to help you get yours.’ ”
For a look at some work by artists in the StreetARToronto Directory, click through the image gallery.