Writing on the Wall

Slight change of plans today. The Flu Bug has ensconced itself firmly in the PATO office, so we’re having a somewhat abridged editorial calendar day.

start-logoSo far PATO’s been focused on sculptures, mainly because I wanted to start my explorations into public art at the center of the city, aka Nathan Phillip’s Square, which only has statues on display. As a result to blog has been rather sculpture heavy.

So, in anticipation of more graffiti and mural based posts, I thought I would talk about StARToronto, the city’s street art promotion and vandalism diversion project.

But before I get into all that, I just want to make clear some of my thoughts on the subject of street art, graffiti and vandalism and how this blog will treat each item. Firstly, street art is art, usually a mural but not necessarily, that is sanctioned by the owner of the building or the city itself. The artist has permission to create their work in this location. An example of this would be the Leslieville mural at the corner of Queen and Jones. It is a means of enhancing the locale in which the work finds itself.

haikuforyoutoGraffiti is somewhat of a different beast. This is art that hasn’t been sanctioned by anyone. The artist goes out and surreptitiously installs a piece of art. The installations are usually subversive, satirical, and incendiary. Nine times out of ten, they are also illegal. If the artist is caught, they can be fined or go to jail. This is the legal zone that artists like Bansky, Blek le Rat, and Shepard Fairey often work in. Yet, despite their legal status, they are valid pieces of art. One could argue that their malfeasance actually enhances their artistic merit. These illicit works make a statement, or draw attention to an issue, or simply presents the worldview of the artist. Because they are not inherently destructive, and I believe these installations fall under expressive freedom statutes, I am going to include them on this blog. Larger pieces such as murals are going to be called Graffiti to reflect the planning and logistics surrounding actually putting these works into public spaces. Smaller pieces or things that appear to be off the cuff installations such as the HaikuforYouTO stickers or the unknown piece I profiled at the end of War Memorial Week are going to be labeled as Guerrilla Art.

Finally, let’s talk about vandalism. I am *NOT* going to promote works of vandalism. These include tags, gang signs, racist statements, or anything that destroys another artist’s work. Vandalism serves no purpose other than to intimidate a community or mark territory. It has no artistic merit and as such, it will not be included here. They do not qualify as protected speech, so don’t try and use that argument with me. It won’t work.

Alright, with that out of the way, let’s talk about StART.

article1-img1Toronto’s StreetARToronto (StART) program grew out of Mayor Rob Ford’s anti-vandalism crusade that started with his election in 2010. In fact, ridding the city of graffiti was one of the main platforms of his election campaign. This did not sit well with local artists like Spud and Deadboy who went out of their way to mock both the mayor and his councilor brother in their installations wherever they could.

There were two main problems with the Ford initiative, aside from needling local street artists. The first was that it allowed the city to levy fines against property owners who didn’t clean it up in a timely fashion. The second issue was that the regulations made no differentiation between vandalism and legitimate graffiti art. It didn’t matter if the owner wanted to keep the piece, or if they couldn’t afford to have it professionally removed, these people got fined.

In response to the criticism, the city amended its bylaws to differentiate Graffiti Art (street art for the purposes of the blog) from Graffiti Vandalism and provide a framework for street art to thrive in the city. The result was StART, the city’s two-pronged approach to graffiti management.  StART’s first priority is to be a proactive means of combating graffiti vandalism. The program’s second priority is to encourage and promote graffiti art as a means of “adding vibrancy and visual interest to [the] streets” of Toronto. Because graffiti artists generally follow a code that they will not tag or deface another artist’s work, by promoting legitimate street art in locations where vandalism is prevalent,  StART  is actually working to reduce vandalism.

So how does it work?

article1-img3StART provides up to $50,000 in funding to either not-for-profit or charitable organizations, like local Business Improvement Associations (BIAs), to commission works of street art. If you are an artist or art collective interested in participating in the program, you are encouraged to apply through these organizations. The installation must be in a highly visible location within the city, either on city-owned land or private property with reasonable access to the public.

Public consultations must be held in the community with the involvement of StART, local organizations and business stakeholders, artists and the public at large. The intent is that the work will have not only a beautifying effect on the neighbourhood but also reflect the community’s cultural heritage and generate community engagement around issues surrounding street art and cultural voices. The work also needs to promote Toronto as a creatively diverse city that will attract tourists engaged in cultural attractions.

Unlike the City’s Percent For Public Art Program which favours established artists, the StARToronto program actually gives preference to projects that team up youth or up and coming artists with more established voices in a mentorship arrangement. This novel approach lets new, less experienced artists become engaged, develop their skills, build their CV in a way that actually discourages acts of vandalism.

In terms of funding, StART only provides up to 70% of the monies needed to complete the piece. Of the remaining 30%, it must be fundraised by the organization sponsoring the work and of that, 15% must be cash on hand. The additional funds must be secured through private-public grants or donations and all of that money raised must be used exclusively to support the project. As well, a maintenance plan lasting at least 5 years must be put into place before the start of work.

Each application is graded according to a set scorecard that includes:

  • Achieves StART’s overall objectives and priorities
  • Ability to illustrate how the project reflects, chronicles, or supports the distinct character of the community and overall artistic quality
  • Organizational background (history of community work and experience with street art projects)
  • Mentorship (how will the project serve as a meaningful pathway for youth and emerging artists?)
  • Ability to leverage in-kind, private or public support
  • Technical Feasibility (visibility of site, strong maintenance plan, project co-ordination, and workplan)

article1-img2Since 2012, StART has funded more than 200 pieces of street art throughout the City of Toronto and now had a budget of $375,890 in 2016. This resulted in the creation of 17 new murals throughout the city. The city  also expanded the program with the creation of StARTUP, which funds the beautified 5 underpasses every year and Outside the Box, which has transformed 120 of the city’s traffic signal boxes over the last three years.

On the surface, StART is simply an art program, but look a little deeper and you will see it’s so much more. It’s an arts program, sure. But it is also a neighbourhood beautification and heritage development program. It’s a youth mentorship program and a crime prevention program. Talk about bang for your taxpayers’ buck.

It most definitely is a program the city should be proud of. Way to go Toronto, it looks good on you.

Learn more about the StARToronto program by visiting the City of Toronto website.

Interested in applying? Applications for StART are currently closed until 2017, but you can start preparing the paperwork now.

Application process and form
2017 Application Deadline: March 6, 2017, 4:30pm

StART Partnership Program
Application process and form
2017 Application Deadline: April 3, 2017, 4:30pm

StART Outside the Box
Application process and form
2017 Application Deadline: April 24, 2017, 4:30pm

Good luck. I hope to be writing about your work next year.

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