Graffiti art comes in out of the cold

The laneway behind downtown stalwart, the Big Bop, is used to seeing lots of people just hanging around. Usually those people are homeless, drunk or otherwise engaged in negative social activity.

The usual is no more. Now the laneway is more likely to see tourists snapping pictures of the brightly-painted walls than crack addicts and society’s dregs. Glen Hughes, property manager for the building behind The Big Bop, which shares the laneway, couldn’t be happier.

“It’s a different vibe now. It’s become a tourist attraction for the city,” Hughes said. “The alley is packed during the day with people taking photographs (of the walls).”

Queen and Bathurst streets overhaul

Thanks to the efforts of Constable Scott Mills, graffiti co-ordinator for Toronto’s 14 division, the laneway, just south of Queen and Bathurst, has undergone a serious overhaul and renewal.

Along with the help of community groups like Community Cave and local graffiti artists, Mills, over the weekend of Oct. 28, organized the Richmond St. laneway revitalization project.

The project, part of the city’s graffiti eradication program, saw large parts of the neighbourhood joining up with 20 local graffiti artists to paint over all the illegal tagging that covered the walls in the alley and repaint them with authorized graffiti art.

Mills, who has been at this for close to three years, is a bear of a man and when he stands back and looks at those walls, it’s easy to see the look of someone surveying a job well done.

The idea is, by gathering some of the city’s ‘top’ graffiti artists and having them legally paint the walls, other, illegal taggers, won’t go over their work out of respect.

Though funding is coming in slowly, Mills had to fork over close to $750 of his own money to finance the revitalization project, he continues to look forward to the next alley to fix.

‘This isn’t about the politics, it’s about the people’

“This isn’t about the politics, it’s about the people,” Mills said. “It’s definitely a win-win (situation) with the artists and police working together.”

Zac Robinson, according to Mills, is one of the top graffiti artists in the city. He has been instrumental in a lot of the work that’s been done. Mills points to him when asked about what happens when someone tags over the authorized art. They’re a community, these graffiti artists and Mills is happy and proud to let them police themselves in these matters.

Emails are sent; apologies are offered and the illegal tags are painted over.
Robinson is more than happy to help out. The ability to paint legally is just one of the many benefits.

“If you get a permission wall, you can take your time,” Robinson said. “You don’t have to worry about getting arrested. You can do a good job.”

Leyla Bulcan of Community Cave put it this way: “A lot of these kids are going to do it [graffiti] anyway. You might as well bring them together and give them a legal place to do it, legitimize it for them, let them take pride in it.”