All photos by Enzo Di Matteo
Who'd a thunk it. Rob Ford, a culture icon.
The way his lieutenant on graffiti eradication, Councillor Cesar Palacio, has been talking lately, you'd think there was some hope for wall art in the city, despite what Fordo said during the election about wiping the place clean.
This week, three murals painted on garage doors in the west end won a reprieve from community council and won't have to be removed.
It remains to be seen whether the mayor's rethinking his policy of all-out war against graffiti, or is just distracted by the larger affairs of state.
Maybe he's biding his time waiting for that all-important report in a few months time before he takes a pressure washer to the entire works. How likely is it, for example, that the mayor will let graffiti in the lanes behind Queen West or on storefronts in Kensington survive, even if businesses, some of whom commissioned the art, kick up a stink?
Hard to imagine the mayor embracing graffiti as an art form that adds to the bohemian index of a culturally-minded city. I'm not holding out much hope, or the mayor, the hands-on guy that he is, would have stepped in to put a stop to the graffiti madness swirling around the Brick Works by now. Talk about bureaucracy run amok.
The city's bylaw enforcement department has ordered Evergreen, the non-profit that runs the recently-refurbished historic site, to remove the scrawl there. That, on the basis of a single complaint, but it's not clear by whom.
Spraypainted murals and tags, left by the street kids who used to slum in the 19th-century warehouses when the place was abandoned, pretty much cover the interior and exterior walls of every building on the site, including the old kilns used to bake bricks for a growing city way back when.
Evergreen's David Stonehouse says a conscious decision was made to keep the graffiti.
He says maintaining what he calls the authenticity of the Don Valley attraction was made clear to those funding the multi-million-dollar redo of the site, including the province, federal government and city. Although, preserving the graffiti may not have been mentioned specifically in those discussions.
In fact, the existing graffiti work has been added to. Banksy-style knock offs, inspired by photos of former Brick Works employees, are also plastered above some of the graffiti work on some of the interior walls.
You'd think that throughout the half dozen years the site was being redeveloped, that someone among the government stakeholders, would have been moved to say something about the graffiti - if in fact it was a problem.
So why is the graffiti an issue now?
The bylaw enforcement officer who issued the graffiti removal order, seemed surprised, according to one Evergreen staffer, about the extent of the art work at the site.
The city's Heritage Preservation Services and culture division have now been brought into the discussion about an exemption for the site. Representatives from both were scheduled to tour the Brick Works last Friday (February 18). The mayor has also accepted an invitation to visit.
Stonehouse extended the invite to the mayor. Evergreen staff didn't want the mayor's office getting the wrong idea that they were the ones behind the initial story in the Globe about the graffiti removal order.
Getting rid of the drawings is not an option, in Stonehouse's view.
We've already heard that the brick of the kilns is sufficiently degraded that any attempt to remove graffiti there could cause untold damage. Painting it over gets back to what Stonehouse was saying about keeping the cultural integrity of the Brick Works intact.
The danger for the Brick Works graffiti is getting into an argument over what is or isn't art, always a slippery proposition when those making that decision are bureaucrats and politicians.
Judged by that criteria, the drawings at the Brick Works don't past the test. But that's not the point, really. The hieroglyphics is part of the history of the place, the ambient quality.
You can't just take a pressure washer or paint over that memory, can you?
The mayor was hailed as a "hero" back when he reportedly called off bylaw enforcement officers hounding Reg Hartt over his living room theatre operation, Cineforum, a few weeks back. Hartt compared the mayor to Jane Jacobs for intervening on his behalf back then.
For the Brick Works graffiti, however, early signs are that the writing may already be on the wall.