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Graffiti, StreetArt, Public Spaces/Private Spaces —“We’re starting to learn from the European example.”

April 29th, 2013  

On Tuesday April 16, 2013 I attended a town hall meeting at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Topic: War on graffiti. Making more public spaces available to art.

Those present tackled such questions as:

Does an owner have the right to put-up their idea of art on their property?
Do we need to give more public spaces for people to express themselves through art?
“Is street art criminal?

The speaker who impressed me most that evening was John Kiru, Executive Director, Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas.

I believe his comments relating to Graffiti/StreetArt and Business are so important that I’ve transcribed them here for the record.

John Kiru (Toronto Association of B.I.A.s) on Graffiti as Art –Public (and Private) Spaces


John Kiru, Executive Director, Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, on Graffiti and Street Art, Ontario Gallery of Art, April 16, 2013

You know when we talk about public spaces, there seems to be a disconnect. Yet we talk about engaging the business people. The minute you engage the business people, it’s actually private spaces that we’re talking about. Literally.

The fact is with the BIAs across this city —74 of them, every year, and we have for years, allowed and opened up these private spaces to become canvasses for murals.

We’ve engaged hundreds, if not thousands of walls across this city, where we encourage local artists to come out and work with us. To either depict the community, the neighbourhood, the history. So we continue to support this.

I can tell you that the BIAs spends thousands and thousands of dollars seeking out artists to continue to develop this program.

BIAs have hung their brands on it. The Village of Islington —The Village of Murals. Church-Wellesley has just launched 12 new murals that they’re going to be putting out there.

So there continues to be the opportunity —and it is not just public spaces, there’s plenty of private spaces, if you will. Space that is sort of entrusted to Business Improvement Areas where they are turning that space into canvasses.

John Kiru, in response to “How do we open up private spaces for Art”?, Ontario Gallery of Art, April 16, 2013

….I’d probably like to run with the TTC idea, a little bit. And I think that we all agree that getting off at any number of the stations through the system, through the subway system, is blah at best.

I think there are some opportunities. I can think of the fashion district in New York when you get out and you have hats animating the floor.

I think there’d be an opportunity for —many BIAs would love the opportunity to help —create an atmosphere that is reflective of what’s above ground. So as you pull into that station, you would know that you’re coming in to the Spadina District and it has that as a reflection.

So I think there’s some opportunities. There’s some canvasses that are out there [inaudible] that are significantly better [inaudible].

That is an area that certainly worked very hard in terms of “Let’s not turn them into the Coca Cola station and the Pepsi Station” and some of the stuff that’s been going on.

Let’s turn them into something that will give us a preamble into what’s above the ground.

John Kiru, in response to “What’s legal? Who determines what is acceptable”?, Ontario Gallery of Art, April 16, 2013

You know I really think that the last couple of years we’ve moved light-years ahead of where we were. There’s no question. The program has worked. The program has set a foundation that we all understand.

Ultimately from our members’ perspective obviously is, it still requires permission. You wanna use my wall, let me know what you’re doing, we’ll work [inaudible] whether it’s BIA that’s negotiating that or the private property owner.

We no longer need the toilet seat approach to it. It’s up. It’s down. It’s up. It’s down.

If we reach a consensus, we move forward. Quite frankly, you know, and again, the term was used up here. “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. What is Art?” And maybe there are [inaudible] at City Hall that can figure that out somewhere along the line.

But the bottom line is, we’ve moved forward. There are some great opportunities that we’re getting here. And we’ll continue to work with the people out there that are doing this stuff.

You know, what we don’t need is, this graffiti on our windows. That is moved beyond that. That is the distinction. And I think that is the area that continues to trouble us. When you come out there and have your windows scratched out, it just means dollars that are going to have to be spent —to do that. So, there is that distinct difference.

We’ve made massive progress —massive progress. Business people, BIAs that would never want to see that stuff out there, or engage in that stuff. So. It’s there.

We’re getting there.

John Kiru, closing remarks, Ontario Gallery of Art, April 16, 2013

And if I can, just to carry on.

And I think one of the things that this has done for the councillors that are out there —and if you don’t know, councillors sit on the boards of management of the BIAs. So they’re very involved in the process and the operations of BIAs.

And what this has done is [inaudible] been a cause to an end in terms of it certainly beats the hell out of violation notices that are out there. People are putting up their walls because they don’t want to deal with that sort of issue.

So it’s caused an opportunity for people to move forward, animate those walls, animate the neighbourhoods and get away from that. So from that perspective I can tell you that there are a number of councillors who are very grateful because they’re not, you know, hearing about victimizing the victim. The issues of that —I need an extension to that —we need to change that policy, and everything else.

Here is an opportunity —here is a way of dealing with an issue that was problematic. And I think we’re that much closer —and again, is it perfect? Probably not. But we’re a hell of a lot closer to where we need to be than we were two years ago.

John Kiru, final words of the evening, Ontario Gallery of Art, April 16, 2013

Thank you. And again, thanks for having us out here folks. This is the proverbial “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. And if any of you guys remember some of the cigarette commercials way back when when cigarettes were still sold and advertised —”We’ve come a long way, Baby”. And, we have. We absolutely have. There is no question about that.

Keep on engaging us though, guys. We don’t like surprises.

So. We’ll work with ya. We want to animate those spaces because that’s what brings customers out onto those streets. So if you-guys can make us unique —where we become a destination, be it for tourists, be it for locals, be it for anybody else that’s out there.

Some of that art that I saw that you’ve got out there, we could certainly work with a number of BIAs that will draw the people that we want. The people that we want to spend time with.

This city, with the development that’s out there, we need to animate our outdoor spaces. We’re building pigeon coops that people are living in —6,400 square foot units etc.

Outdoor space is becoming more and more important. We’re starting to learn from the European example where people are spending time on the street.

And I’m beyond my 30 seconds —I’m seeing a twitch over there. So, keep it up. But engage us. That’s all we ask.

Thanks again.


“We’re starting to learn from the European example….”


Graffiti artist "Flown". The Great Mississauga Graffiti Wall, October 10, 2011
Graffiti artist “Flown”. The Great Mississauga Graffiti Wall, October 10, 2011


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