Street art is visual art created in public locations, usually unsanctioned artwork executed outside of the context of traditional art venues
Street art is a controversial topic globally; Some consider it vandalism rather than art.
Toronto has a rich history of street art and has a unique flavor to its work because it often represents various cultures
stART is a program of the City of Toronto’s Transportation Services Division, launched in 2012, it is an innovative, public-private partnership designed to develop, support, promote and increase awareness of street art and its role in adding beauty and character to neighbourhoods throughout the city
Street art is visual art specifically developed for public spaces and surfaces, such as walls, pathways, and street furniture and infrastructure. Street art includes traditional graffiti artwork, street poster art, video projection, and murals (painted, photographic, or mosaic). Artists who choose the streets as their canvas are often giving priority to direct communication with the public at large, free from perceived constraints of the formal art world.
It is interesting to know about three game-changer moments in history of street art.
1. 15,000 BCE - Cave painting
The caves at Lascaux, in southwestern France, have almost 2000 images painted on their ceilings and walls, dating back to circa 15,000 BCE, a.k.a. the Stone Age. Obviously the caves don’t have streets but this demonstrates the very human need to use art to both make sense of and manipulate the environment, two of street art’s varied purposes
2. 1942 - Kilroy was here
During World War II, the phrase “Kilroy was here,” usually accompanied by a drawing of a bald figure with a big nose, began appearing wherever US servicemen were stationed. Plenty of people scribbled their names in obscure places before Kilroy got there, but his tag was the most widespread.
3. 2000’s - Street art goes legal
In the 2000s and 2010s, street art went legal. Huge city-wide festivals in Stavanger, Norway, and Melbourne showed city officials that street art need not be criminalized—in fact, it could be encouraged in a way that benefited both the city (tourism, ornamentation) and the artist (exposure, safe circumstances in which to execute large-scale or intricate pieces)
Consequently, over the past few decades, street art has become a global phenomenon as cities around the world recognize the enormous cultural and socioeconomic potential that comes from harnessing this artistic energy and providing an alternative to unwanted graffiti vandalism. Here you can read more on definition and history of street art.
Street art has been a widely controversial issue in many cities, straddling the fine line between art and vandalism, legal and illegal. Because of this, many talented street artists have had to hide in the shadows. Street artists can be charged with vandalism, malicious mischief, intentional destruction of property, criminal trespass, or antisocial behavior. In some cities, it is unlawful for landowners to allow any graffiti on their property if it’s visible from any other public or private property. Citizens also are not unanimous in their feelings about street art. Some people consider it a crime while others appreciate it as a form of art.
Thanks to shifting perceptions, devoted public spaces, and brilliant (and brave) local artists, Toronto’s street art scene is growing and now is one of the must-see destinations. Toronto’s street art scene is extensive, democratic and increasingly supported by the powers that be through the city program StreetARToronto (StART), which works with artists and non-profit organizations to help make our neighbourhoods more colourful
StreetARToronto (StART) is a pro-active program that treats streets as vital public space and aims to develop, support, and increase awareness of street art and its indispensable role in generating social and economic benefits, adding beauty and character to Toronto's communities, and counteracting the negative effects of graffiti vandalism.
StART’s mission is to build a visually rich and exciting environment and revitalize public spaces and encourage community engagement while reducing graffiti vandalism. City of Toronto believes that this is an opportunity to illustrate and celebrate Toronto's diverse cultural character.
Here are some great places to look for street art in Toronto.
If you’d prefer to simply show up, look and listen, Tour Guys offers an informative, entertaining Graffiti Tour, a two-hour exploration of graffiti and street art around Queen West and Graffiti Alley — the one-kilometre laneway running from Spadina to Portland, just south of Queen — complete with a lesson on the history of graffiti and details on the artists. The tour runs for free every Saturday in the spring, summer and fall, or you can book your very own private touryear-round.
Dorsa Jalalian is currently studying at the University of Toronto for her Masters of Urban design and holds a degree in Architecture. Her interests include studying the role of design in urban issues, social housing, public spaces as well as urban games and philosophy.