With Mayor Rob Ford strapping on his goggles and breaking out the water blaster early this month, the war against graffiti is officially on in Toronto.
The city's handing out graffiti violations and sending a clear message to property owners: clean up your walls or we'll do it for you, and send you the bill.
City Hall is simultaneously encouraging businesses to set up murals, so the war against public paint has not quite gone nuclear, but there's a nagging suspicion among Toronto's street artists that Ford and his bureaucrats don't know the difference between vandalism and art.
That's one of the messages of this short but compelling documentary about Toronto's street art, which manages to convey the incredible diversity of graffiti artists' motives in a quick ten minutes. Their reasons for putting aerosol to brick range from the astonishingly selfish to the community-minded, and some are even trying to get Ford to appoint them to the committee that will decide which pieces of street art will be whitewashed and which will be spared.
Here's what director Char Loro has to say about the battle for Toronto's wall space.
Who are you?
My name is Char Loro. I'm a second year radio and television arts student at Ryerson. I'm also a videographer, photographer, and blogger.
Why did you make this documentary?
It started as a project for my design and media class. I wanted to do something that explored Toronto's graffiti, and design and dissent in Toronto. Then I saw the articles about Ford's anti-graffiti program, and it grew from there.
What would you say to people that characterize graffiti as vandalism?
I think people need to understand the difference. Tagging infringes on people's property. Some artists do it with that intent, to make a point by defacing someone else's property. Then there are those who do it because they love the art form. It's really what people choose to do with the medium. Not all graffiti art is vandalism.
How do you think the street art community will react to Ford's anti-graffiti program?
Some people think there's going to be a backlash and they're going to bomb more. Others feel that we really want Ford to understand, we want to help educate him so that he knows more about this art form. Education will lead to understanding. [Ford] going about it in a forceful manner gives a lot of graffiti artists the feeling that they need to rebel.
At least one person you interviewed admitted that graffiti is often wrong and he does it for selfish reasons. Are you worried Torontonians will react negatively to attitudes like that?
I wasn't trying to sugarcoat it and make the graffiti scene look a certain way, and I'm not worried about turning people off. I wanted people to be able to see that artists do the art form for different reasons. Because it helps them pay the bills, for the good of the community, or because they're a hardcore bomber and they're addicted. My intention was to show what the scene is really like, and why these artists do what they do, for all these different reasons.