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Urban Art: It’s Not Always Crime Anymore (In Canada)

Richardson’s mural was “too political”

In Toronto, a panel of five city staffers with backgrounds in “the arts, urban design, architecture and other relevant disciplines” has been officially set up to decide on issues of the preservation of street art. The panel decides whether a given piece of street art is of sufficient artistic merit to exempt the owner of the property on which it is painted from fines for failing to remove it. As in many cities, in Toronto it is not only a crime to paint other peoples buildings, it is a crime not to un-paint them.

The panel is a nod to the growing respectability and commercial clout of street art in the midst of Toronto’s latest crackdown on graffiti, and offers some relief to property owners hosting legitimate artworks (rather than slumlords allowing urban decay), but none to painters: “Even if it’s Picasso, you’re not allowed to paint on other people’s walls,” says Elyse Parker, a city official who has coordinated several street beautification initiatives.

The panel came about in part in response to an embarrassing incident last May, when zealous city anti-graffiti squads painted over a popular stencil-style mural by Joel Richardson, which he says the city had paid him to paint, and is one of many incidents in Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s war on graffiti, which has irked property owners by targeting them with a flood of city removal orders.

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