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Nunavut and Toronto Teens Come Together for an Amazing Mural Project

A group of Nunavut and Toronto teens have overcome a myriad of challenges to paint a beautiful mural in Toronto. The teens, part of the collective known as Cape Dorset, have put together Piliriqatigiingniq, “an unprecedented public artwork project” on Toronto’s Church Street. But getting this beautiful project off the ground has been a long and hard endeavour, one that demonstrates the skill and hard work that’s necessary in all stages of any street art project.

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The word “piliriqatigiingniq” is, according to the project’s website, is “a pillar of Inuit traditional knowledge, meaning to work together towards a common goal,” and fully displays the talents that young artists have in the lesser known areas of our country. Overall, it took two years to get the mural up, and was made to show off the Inuit art style during this year’s PanAm and Para-PanAm games, which were a resounding success for the city and the country.

At over two storeys in size, the large mural had a hard time finding an appropriate place that could speak to the sheer depth of the project, and the creators thought they had the perfect place in a building on King Street East and Jarvis Street, but the landlord pulled out at the last minute with very little explanation. The sudden change created quite the scramble for a new space, and project directors Alexa Hatanaka and Patrick Thompson started making phone calls all around the city for a new location. “We ended up having to scramble for seven days,” Thompson says, “But we found one with two days to go.” Thompson also said that despite the last minute changes, the outpouring of support was “amazing” and the project ended up in an arguably better location.

That location is a hostel only a block away at Church and Adelaide, which Thompson thinks is thematically appropriate. “It’s the perfect symbol for us,” Thompson said, “It’s a place where people come together from one place to experience a new place.” Both him and Hatanaka were hesitant to get too excited, however, after the last place fell through so quickly. But the newly donated space worked out and now Piliriqatigiingniq is completed and showing off the talent of Canada’s North.

As for the mural itself, the beautiful and brightly-coloured design comes from teen Inuit artist Parr Etidloie. “I heard some stories about my grandfather carrying a snowmobile and they told me to draw it,” the artist told CBC News, “And it worked out.” Etidloie was joined by a local Toronto artist and three of his teenage friends, Audi Qinnuayuaq, Latch Akesuk, Cie Taqiasaq, to complete the project according to his vision, and the response has been overwhelming. Pedestrians and locals congratulated the teens on their hard work, but few of them truly knew the adversity these teens faced in making their project a reality. But now, thanks to the dedication of many people, and a sizeable grant, Toronto can proudly display some art from one of the country’s most isolated areas.

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First Coat Mural Festival in Australia

The City of Toowoomba in Queensland, Australia is famous for a few things. Located in the Northeast of Australia, it’s only a short drive to the ocean, and sits close to the Great Barrier Reef. But people don’t come to Toowoomba for its proximity to beaches and natural wonders, they come for the scenery.

Toowoomba is nicknamed “The Garden City” for good reason: it boasts over 150 parks inside its small borders, and the city’s 150,000 residents are constantly surrounded by the natural beauty of the region, which is made in part by its geography and soil. Rich volcanic ash feeds the city’s many Jacaranda, camphor laurel and plane trees that line many of the city streets, giving the city a rich green colour, but many people plant flowers and other colourful plants, which are judged as part of the city’s annual Australian Carnival of Flowers held every September.

But natural beauty is just one of the reasons people are flocking to Toowoomba, and the Carnival of Flowers isn’t the only festival that celebrates colour and life. The other is Toowoomba’s First Coat Mural Festival, an annual three-day festival that celebrates street art and entertainment. The festival brings together thousands of street artists, muralists, and other performers from around the world, all eager to show off what makes them special.

Aspiring artists can also take full advantage of the festival’s many events, which range from discussions to masterclasses on various art techniques and styles. Most of these events are also free, and almost all are hosted in Queensland’s largest open air gallery at the heart of Toowoomba.

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But more than a festival, First Coat is a clever way to deal with unwanted graffiti and put up some beautiful street art at the same time. Since the city and surrounding area enjoys a healthy tourism industry based on its beauty, the entire area tries to be prudent when it comes to graffiti and unwanted “additions” to the landscape. But, of course, the city has its fair share of overeager and aspiring street artists who don’t always comply with regulation, and the annual festival helps the city cover up unwanted tags and graffiti. The move, besides being a great way to promote murals and street art, is also a pragmatic choice. On top of bringing in an estimated $90,000 in extra revenue this past May, the festival also helped eliminate an estimated $45,000 in graffiti cleanup, all by encouraging art.

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First Coat is an example of street art at its absolute best: encouraging great artists, collaboration, and helping change the public’s opinion about public art and street art in general. It proves, year after year, that public art is an important part of a city’s identity, not just for its own artistic merit, but because it can help beautify even the most gorgeous of cities. And because such a festival brings together artists from all around the world, and encourages people of all skill levels to learn and develop together, it strengthens the global muralist community. Those are all good things.

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Artist Highlight: Soten

The world of graffiti has often focused on pictures over words, and that has caused an important part of the industry to die away. The art of graffiti writing is rarely seen beyond tags these days, or as complementary pieces to pictures and murals. But for one Danish street artist, the art of graffiti writing is more than declaring your graduation year. It’s about harnassing something different in the artform and bringing it to the forefront again.

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Growing up in Copenhagen, Denmark, Soten was met with adversity when it came to his artform. But despite being a wonderful European city, Copenhagen was notoriously strict about graffiti, and Soten had to get creative about expressing his creativity. But Soten has since seen a shift to more tolerance, and he gives his peers the credit over himself. “Thanks to the big work of a smaller group of writers and today,” he said in an interview with Molotow, “You see more and more big walls in the city and with a increase of halls of fame the general public are getting more and more tolerant towards graffiti.”

But there are a few, he says, that would rather graffiti stays illegal in Copenhagen. Not for the usual reasons, however, but for a taste of the glory days. “The biggest tolerance problem in Copenhagen is these young… [kids] with a closed group of old schoolers who have left the game years ago or maybe do 2-3 pieces a year,” he explains, “[They] try to preach bullsh*t about how graffiti should be kept illegal thing. Instead of letting the whole movement grow they try keep graffiti down for the sake of they can sit and reminisce about when they where the boss.”

Soten thinks, graffiti should be free for anyone to do, and people who want to keep the movement attached to its illegal routes aren’t helping the industry or the artistry. They are, according to Soten, holding the entire medium back.

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But Soten’s more than just a political figure for the street art scene in Copenhagen, he’s also a talented graffiti writer who’s travelled the world doing art for all kinds of projects. His writing ranges from scrawls to full 3-dimensional experiences, and they’re probably best described as traditionalist with a hint of the contemporary. Soten’s style is obviously influenced by the brighter colours and effects of the L.A. scene, but he also infuses it with a more recent English minimalism in much of his quieter work.

Soten’s distinct style and love of writing shows a marked change from the usual picture-focused mural work that happens in today’s climate. But that doesn’t mean graffiti writing is inferior, and artists like Soten are proving that everyday. His work reminds us that there is much about street art that’s still misunderstood, and artists need to preserve and forward the more obscure aspects of the craft to renew enthusiasm and keeping the artistry alive.

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Shepard Fairey: Wanted by Detroit Police

Legendary graffiti artist Shepard Fairey is currently wanted by Detroit police for work he recently did in the beleaguered city’s downtown core. Fairey, probably most famous for his OBEY and Andre the Giant graffiti in the eighties and of course the iconic HOPE poster from President Obama’s 2008 campaign, was in town to paint the largest legal mural he had ever undertaken. Apparently the Detroit Police Department, famously underworked in the currently booming metropolis of financially stable Detroit, is coming after Fairey for his “extra-curricular” activity.

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Detroit police are currently investigating Fairey’s alleged crimes, including two counts of malicious destruction of property, for graffiti that has appeared in downtown Detroit since Fairey arrived in the city. The crimes aren’t too severe, but can lead to jail time and hefty fines, so Fairey is going to have to lawyer up to defend the charges.

Of course, for an artist as famous as Fairey, he could make a couple of unique arguments about his various alleged graffiti activity around town, including the fact a bonafide Fairey original on any piece of property is actually a way to increase a property’s value, not devalue it, as the law requires, and that could lead to some problems on the Detroit police’s side of the case. But either way, Fairey’s original mural is now proudly being displayed in downtown Detroit, and that has many different people taking note, and either complaining or complimenting the artist’s contribution to the city skyline.

Fairey was in Detroit doing the largest legal mural he has ever undertaken in an effort to add some colour to Detroit’s beleaguered downtown core. The city, most famous recently for having to file for bankruptcy, has looked to private companies for ways to rebuild and attract new people to the area. Of course, the various projects, including Fairey’s own mural, has been met with a chorus of both approval and disdain. For Fairey’s work, some praise the initiative as a way of using art to attract young people, while others argue it’s a way to cover up the creeping gentrification of some neighbourhoods. Fairey himself is frustrated by the divisive opinions, telling Animal via email, “I’m either accused of being a vandal or a gentrifier depending on who you ask. Realty has more nuance. I think art is a good thing in public spaces…for the most part.”

Many legal experts have weighed in on Fairey’s current prediciment and, besides having to assess the devaluing of properties to make the case, the Detroit police will also need to prove it was Fairey, and not someone else, who did indeed do the graffiti they’re mentioning. And in a city with a myriad of closures and resource scarcity, and many other things they could be focusing on, retroactively proving a specific person did certain graffiti will be almost impossible. Fairey may never even have to take the stand.