Graffiti panel debates street art versus vandalism

Oct 29, 2012 | News

By Claire McCormack

A community mural in Toronto’s East end focuses on women and martial arts. COURTESY DESANTOS MARTIAL ARTS – SKETCH COLLABORATION

A city panel is scheduled to meet Friday to debate what is graffiti and what is art.

The panel is part of Mayor Rob Ford’s initiative to crack down on graffiti vandalism in Toronto.

The city can order property owners to remove graffiti from their walls if it is deemed offensive, but the individual pays the expense of removal. If the property owner doesn’t have it removed in a reasonable amount of time, the city will arrange its removal and the owner will get a bill.

Dave Rochester, who owns Graffiti Clean in the GTA, said graffiti removal is upwards of roughly $90 to $100 per hour.

“Whatever the process you’re using, it goes over onto the sidewalk, onto the awnings, onto the signage, and makes it much more difficult to remove safely. It takes more manpower,” Rochester told Humber News.

When graffiti might be considered art, a property owner can ask to keep it.

It’s a move that can save them money and some say it can stop the spread of offensive graffiti.

“No self respecting graffiti artist would tag a wall that is obviously a finished piece,” Sandra Brewster, marketing/gallery coordinator for Sketch told Humber News.
Sketch is a 16 year running organization that fosters creativity for street involved and homeless young people aged 16 to 24.

Brewster highlighted the recent launch of a piece of street art in Toronto’s east end which received a grant from StART Toronto, a city program that funds street art projects and aims to reduce harmful graffiti.

“The idea behind the grant was to identify a space in the city that has been tagged a lot or a lot of vandalism happens to the surface of their exterior walls,” Brewster said.

Brewster said Sketch gallery encourages people to consider “what ideas they have when considering graffiti art, and what ideas they have when they mural art and how both can be one and the same.”

Staff Sgt. Steve Pipe of the Toronto Police who works with the force’s Graffiti Management Program, told Humber News graffiti without permission is illegal regardless of its beauty.

“Our core response is still the same, it’s that we will arrest for vandalism,” Pipe told Humber News.

Pipe said that with new programs, the court and the city can now consider after the fact whether or not a piece of graffiti is offensive and should be erased.

“Before it was cut and dry right? Whereas now It’s not. At least now there’s discussion about it and there’s community input which is very valuable,” Pipe said.

“I think its going to be good for everyone, involved including residents,” Pipe said.