Filling blank spaces with art for community improvement and youth employment

Street art has often been viewed as rebellious and in some cases illegal but it has the potential to brighten up blank spaces and improve the community that is reflected in it.

This type of art is called mural painting and unlike other forms of street art such as graffiti, it is there to reflect a community and send out a positive message to the observers.

In 1990, an organization called Mural Routes was created with Toronto communities in mind. The organization focuses on improving neighbourhoods through wall art while helping artists find employment.

Karin Eaton is the executive and artistic director of Mural Routes which has its head office located at 1859 Kingston Rd. in Scarborough.

Eaton runs the organization and also looks after project development and co-ordination. She says Mural Routes allows everyone to interact with art daily without going to galleries and museums.

“The ability to put art on the street where anybody, whether they are an art lover and are knowledgeable about the arts, they don’t have to seek it out in the gallery. It’s right there in the public realm for them to view,” she said.

Eaton was originally into writing and theatre but she started Mural Routes in 1990 and has been organizing programs since. Recently Mural Routes started the “Step x Step” program that aims to get people interested in art and to learn the basic skills required to make wall art.

Let’s get some employment for these young people who are interested in the arts and let them paint good stuff.

— Karin Eaton

According to Eaton, the solution to end illegal street art is to work with the artists and help them find employment.

“The solution is to work with a wide range of artists and to create really excellent work that will help to beautify the place,” she said. “Graffiti is a much more complex issue than just cleaning it off the walls so let’s get some employment for these young people who are interested in the arts and let them paint good stuff.”

Jen Fabico, 27, is an arts educator for the Step x Step program. She says the program isn’t just for beginners, but also for those who already have some artistic skill.

“We try to gauge where people are at now and build on what they already have knowledge of,” she said.

In the Step x Step classes Fabico teaches the students drawing techniques, the process of coming up with concepts, and how to get something from a page to a wall.

“It’s pretty much getting ready to take those drawing and painting elements and combining it into a concept to put it on a wall.” she said.

Fabico firmly believes that mural painting and wall art are great for building communities and to educate the public about the heritage of their community.

“Mural Routes art is public and shareable, to create something that is a catalyst for community building” she said. “To help promote a sense of community through murals and to educate the public that it symbolizes our community, our heritage and our past just as much as any other form of art.”

Fabico also said in addition to the benefits it can bring to communities around them, mural art can also inspire other people and artists alike.

“It is a reflection of how we live our daily lives, people around us. A lot of times murals are inspired by people around the community and I think that once murals are up they inspire people.”

Tara Dorey, a 22-year-old artist, credits the leadership training program for teaching her valuable skills. She spoke with the Toronto Observer.

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Tara Dorey, 22, is an artist who credits the leadership training course for teaching her valuable skills. She took the course last year.

“When I came to Toronto [from Belleville] I heard about the leadership training at Mural Routes,” she said. “From there I gained professional training and began doing more professional murals.”

Dorey got into mural arts because it has a straightforward message and likes that it can be a positive form of art.

“It has a happy and a really straightforward message, so people tend to enjoy the images that I paint,” she said. “It just gave my art a little more purpose.”

Dorey also likes the nature of the work because it allows her to work with other artists.

“I really enjoyed working as part of a team because sometimes art seems very individualistic and solitary so it was really interesting for me to work as part of a team and work towards putting all our creative energy and ideas together,” she said.

The general idea behind Mural Routes is to bring out talented people and give them the tools to find employment and really use their expertise into building the communities around them through painting inspirational art pieces on blank spaces.

Eaton hopes that these programs give artists an opportunity to gain certificates for their talents, much like Dorey.

“We created the training programs to take them into the next level.”

It’s not just blank space that gets filled with community building art but business owners hire artists to give their storefronts more exposure so they stand out more.

“Tara is a perfect example, she came to us, had some background (in art) and now that she has been through our programs she has been able to get work,” Eaton said.