The Ministry of Artistic Affairs
Monday, June 20, 2011

A list of recommendations aimed at defusing an escalating graffiti war in the downtown core will be released within days, the chair of council's licensing and standards committee says.

Staff for Councillor Cesar Palacio confirmed that they had been consulting with property owners and graffiti artists alike in hopes of curtailing the backlash to a cleanup initiative launched by Mayor Rob Ford this year.

Caught between angry property owners slapped with orders to clean their buildings, residents who have seen community murals accidentally erased, and a host of anonymous graffiti artists that have been vigorously attacking city walls with a spate of anti-Ford messaging in recent weeks, the city is looking to soften the current bylaw's catch-all breadth.

The proposed new bylaw will be introduced June 29, according to Mike Makrigiorgios, executive assistant to Palacio. “The councillor is trying to find a balance between eradicating graffiti and allowing legitimate art,” Makrigiorgios said.

Palacio chairs the city's licensing and standards committee and has spearheaded a city-wide crackdown on graffiti.

And while details of the new bylaw are unknown the contentious issues include:

A catch-all definition of graffiti as “letters, symbols, figures, etchings, scratches, inscriptions, stains or other markings” that disfigure or deface a structure or thing. Graffiti artists argue the bylaw lumps legitimate expression with simple vandalism

A provision in the bylaw that empowers enforcement officers to decide what constitutes an “art mural,” which is exempt from enforcement, and graffiti that must be removed. Property owners complain that removal orders not only cost them money, but force them to remove work they accept as property beautification

Palacio's staff has been consulting with businesses, property owners and members of the graffiti community — those that allow themselves to be seen — in an effort to find a middle ground.

Let's see what the wording is,” said Zion, a graffiti artist who owns The Bomb Shelter, a graffiti supply shop on Spadina Ave. near Queen St. W.'s much-celebrated graffiti alleyways. “But so far, I'm willing to work with them.”

Zion suggested the word “graffiti” be stricken from the bylaw, because the term refers to a legitimate art practice.

The graffiti bylaw, adopted in 2005, has been under scrutiny at city hall since 2009 for its ambiguities. That scrutiny intensified with the election of Ford, who sought to implement the full force of the little-used bylaw with a broad cleanup campaign.

“They've spent a fortune on enforcement, but they haven't solved a thing,” said Councillor Adam Vaughan, whose Trinity-Spadina ward is in the heart of the graffiti hot zone.

The city embarrassed itself with an aggressive campaign that did little more than touch off a graffiti war, essentially goading graffiti artists into larger and bolder gestures, Vaughan said.

Zion said that a new bylaw in the works will likely signal a period of d├ętente. “It won't make much sense for people to put up “f--- Ford” if his administration is saying, ‘We're sorry, and we're willing to work with you,” he said.

“The city seems as though it's doing its job for the people. This is the first time I've felt good about any of it.”

By Murray White for the Toronto Star, June 19, 2011.