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Grasping Graffiti: Rob Ford’s war on street art

Since elected two-years-ago, Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford has promised a lot of things… One of those ‘things’ is the irradiation of graffiti and street art from the vacant and endless walls in the city.

Unorthadox Toronto Mayor, Rob Ford, has certainly stirred up quite the drama with, well, everyone during his political career. Some of which became the entertainment and focus of basically every Toronto news outlet.

Despite his alleged crack-smoking, his media-hating, and absurd comments, the Mayor has been consistent in one thing (other than subways and defeating the ‘Gravy Train’). Since elected in 2010, Mayor Ford has made it his personal mission to erase, delete and, depending on which perspective you look at, destroy all graffiti from the city.

On July 30, the Mayor held a conference at West Deane Park on Martingrove Road vowing to erase all graffiti from “any and all city property,” starting on Aug. 1. This time Mayor Ford announced his new partnership with Goodbye Graffiti, a Toronto-based company whose mission is also to rid of all street art. The company will be offering a 15 per cent discount for services related to private property, the mayor added. Goodbye Graffiti was not available for comment.

There’s just one flaw in Ford’s master plan: street artists will never be eradicated. The moment Ford personally (and joyfully) removes one mural, another artist will be painting a newer, brighter, and larger one. It seems like mission impossible. Will police catch and arrest every criminal? Will doctors cure every patient? Will street artists ever stop painting? Simply no.

During the Mayor’s conference, he encouraged Torontonians to call 9-1-1 and “take a picture” of anyone committing this act. It’s sketchy, but those are the mayor’s requests. A Toronto artist, who goes by the name Mark13 and who began his street art career in 1998 between Miami and Santiago de Chile, says “vigilante work” could potentially put people in harm’s way.

“No one likes someone getting into their business,” he said. “You never know the type of people that are out there.” Even with his sympathy for Ford, Mark13 says his murals have been erased many times before.

In further precaution, according to the Toronto Municipal Code, under chapter 485 for Graffiti, “a person convicted of [this] offence … is liable to a fine of not more than $5,000″.

But the danger of being a graffiti artist is deeper than vigilante work or massive fines, the artists themselves are consistently in potential danger. Mark13 says while working in Chile he was held in a cell and even held at gun point on a different occasion. Although the artist did not go into details, something tells me graffiti work is more than what it seems. Are the life-threatening and financial risks worth the free work?

Mark13 says even if he does most of his work for free,

“not all forms of payment can be measured by monetary means”.

Sometimes he even forms good relationships with building owners once they see the colours and life his art brought to their workplace. Although he has never been fined before, he says the Mayor is just doing his job.

Some people may wonder how affective the mayor’s anti-graffiti campaign has been, considering it’s been three years with very little work to show for it (and that Toronto streets are brighter and more beautiful than ever). But graffiti culture is inspired by many factors, some which play a leading role in why graffiti will never go extinct, Mark13 said.

“As long as we are being bombarded with images from advertisements and lifestyle promotion, people will always feel the need to fill all available visual space, whether it is with graffiti or something else,” he says.

Mayor Ford “is pushing through someone else’s political agenda by distracting the public with rhetoric and useless discussions about heated topics, like graffiti, while the real political vandalism goes under the radar, this is a typical political smokescreen used by all politicians.”

Mark13, who has been in the graffiti scene for quite some time, said he was initially inspired by South America’s “tags, murals and political statements that people were posting on the streets”. So, despite the Mayor’s effort to remove graffiti from Toronto, he may have now unintentionally formed himself to be the inspiration to countless artists. Irony at its finest.

Many Toronto graffiti artists have even themed and dedicated their artwork to Ford himself, painting his round, rosy and smirked face on the community walls, posting “Remove Me” beside it. Their art shows to be humorous, artistic and clever all at once. The mayor may get away with a lot of bullshit, but this is one war he may never win.

The graffiti trend is growing more colourful internationally. For instance, Egypt five years ago barely saw any graffiti because very few people were inspired to voice and express their opinions through art. Today, the Egyptian (and I’m sure all Middle Eastern nations) streets are filled with political postings.

The graffiti culture is one that is growing and spreading around the world, a culture and art that provides its by-passers and viewers power, understanding, and a sense of a unified world. Although graffiti is in fact illegal, it also adds style and colour to our city. It promotes freedom of speech and expression. But most importantly, graffiti culture showcases our city’s hidden talents, something Toronto, and its mayor, should be proud of.

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