Monday, May 30, 2011

About Time: Toronto Graffiti Summit Tomorrow Night @ Drake Hotel

Last month in my OpenFile article on the development of Toronto's new culture plan, I made reference to members of the public who questioned how Toronto can be taking art, and particularly public art or youth arts, seriously when its mayor himself has taken to the streets to eradicate graffiti.

After all—in my view, at least—graffiti can range from wonderful public art to nuisance vandalism. It's not always helpful to blackball it outright. Or it would at least be helpful to set some more useful terms of reference than "anything made on a publicly viewable wall with a spraypaint can."

So it's with some interest that I see the upcoming Toronto Graffiti Summit that's happening tomorrow night at the Drake Hotel. The summit will bring together representatives from the city (like Councillor Michael Thompson, who headed the culture plan push, and Councillor Cesar Palacio, who's taking the lead on the graffiti file), members of the graffiti community and administrators for youth arts mural programs to discuss the issue. NOTE: There will also be a webcast for those who can't attend in person. Here's the rundown from an event site:

Graffiti 'vandalism' is a problem. Unwanted graffiti has a detrimental impact on neighbourhoods. The cost to businesses to clean-up unwanted graffiti can range from $100 up to $10,000 for a heritage building. What is the best strategy to stop this vandalism? How do we get all the stakeholders on board? Successful community approaches have been employed with such programs as Vancouver's "Restart" and Philadelphia's award winning "Anti-Graffiti Network" both of which engages youth to create murals. Hear from a range of perspectives from your community that include a community services; the arts community; a graffiti artist, business people; and city officials.

The Town Hall will be divided into two segments:

Speakers: 7:05pm - 7:45pm
Panel Discussion: 7:55pm - 8:55pm
Location: The Drake Hotel, 1150 Queen St., Toronto, ON, M6J 1J3

Registration: 6:00pm - 7:00pm - 'First-come, First-Served'. Registration is 'free' of charge.

Welcome: 7:00pm - 7:05pm - with Councillor Cesar Palacio, City Council lead on new graffiti strategy.

Speakers: The following speakers will make '5' minute presentations:

Syrus Ware, Program Coordinator of Youth Programs, Art Gallery of Ontario

Syrus will provide credence to the art form & its importance to modern art.
Paula 'La Bomba' Gonzalez-Ossa, Graffiti Artist & Youth Programming Coordinator

She will provide a street artist perspective and how marginalized youth can find positive outlets.
Terrence Rodriguez, Program Coordinator, Pro Tech Media Centre

The media centre is a successful example of a skills building alternative outlet for high-risk youth.
Djanka Gajdel, Property & Gallery Owner

She will put forward a personal testament to the hardship caused by graffiti vandalism.
Jim Hart, Executive Director, Municpal Licensing & Standards Division

Jim will speak to the topic of enforcement and what it means in the City of Toronto.
Devon Ostrom, Founder & Coordinator,

Devon will present possible solutions to fund and provide for alternative outlets.
Claire McWatt, Representative, Toronto Youth Cabinet

This will be a summarization of the outreach work of this city group.
Karin Eaton, Executive Director, Mural Routes

Karin will speak to the successful engagement of street artists to beautify the city.

Panel Discussion: 7:55pm - 8:55pm - Audience can ask questions of the panel.

Host & Producer:

Stefan Lialias, Executive Producer, Direct Engagement Inc.

Shawn 'Zion' Jones, Owner & Graffiti Artist, The Bomb Shelter
Jeff Melanson, Special Advisor on the Arts for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford
Robert Sysak, Executive Director, West Queen West Business Improvement Area
Michael Thompson, Councillor Ward 37 Scarborough, City of Toronto
Media Interviewers:

Natalie Alcoba, Toronto City Hall Reporter, National Post
Julie King, Publisher & Managing Editor, CanadaOne.
Sean Stanleigh, Editor of Your Business, The Globe & Mail

As with any of these sorts of all-in panels, I have some skepticism about them getting through all these speakers and topics in the time allotted. Still it's great to see some collaborative discussion on this issue rather than a divisive taking-of-sides.

(Image from Toronto's famed Graffiti Alley--introduced to me as a tourist attraction when I first came to the city--from Spacing Toronto)

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