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Mural Routes, Bringing Artists, Business & The Public Together

Here at MuralForm, we like to talk about awesome street artists and cool projects, but we also love showing how street art can improve communities. Street art and murals can help cities develop tourism, document their history, or even celebrate their triumphs. Murals can define a city’s aesthetic or even contribute to a national identity, as many saw in Brazil this year during the World Cup, and there are many organizations both local and international that try to encourage street art for these reasons.

One such organization is Mural Routes, a not-for-profit organization based in Ontario dedicated to “the promotion of wall art as a public art form for the general benefit of communities and artists,” according to their website. The organization works with local and international agencies, volunteers, and artists to bring mural art to Ontario communities, predominantly Toronto, and to helping mural artists and enthusiasts to stay connected and mutually supportive.

A Little History

Mural Routes has been around for nearly 25 years, starting in the 1990s as an art project with the Scarborough Arts Council. By 1994, Mural Routes had expanded its scope and incorporated itself apart from the Arts Council while still working closely with them. Much of their artistic work results from collaboration with local businesses and governments. The recently unveiled “Eastern Gateway” mural, for example, is the combined efforts of the City of Toronto and Mural Routes. Located at 277 Old Kingston R. in Scarborough, the mural is a permanent piece designed to welcome people into the town. While designed by local artists, the project came together through the volunteer efforts of Scarborough youth interested in street art and making their town that much brighter.

Mural Routes was also integral to the Warden Avenue Underpass mural. This piece documents the local history of the area while adding some colour to a usually ignored part of a city. Once again a collaboration of the City of Toronto and Mural Routes, the piece was praised by city councilwoman Michelle Berardinetti.

While Mural Routes is interested in getting murals onto walls, their major focus is connecting and educating the public and artists on the benefits and opportunities tied to murals. The organization regularly hosts networking events and professional development workshops, embracing the business end of street art while promoting its benefits to Canadians. Much of the information shared and exchanged at Mural Routes various meetings was compiled into Mural Production: A Resource Handbook for artists and business owners.

Mural Routes continues to bring artists, businesses, and the public together by promoting the many benefits of street art, whether its through community meetings or murals made with community involvement. The program is great for aspiring artists, community members, and business owners together and it is this multifaceted approach that lets Mural Routes stand apart from other muralist organizations. For more information, be sure to visit their website.

chemainus world famous murals logo

Chemainus, World Famous Murals

In 1981, Chemainus was a town on the brink not unlike many towns in British Columbia. The recession hit the town particularly hard and the town’s major employer, a single logging company, couldn’t sustain its work like it had for decades. If you have ever driven through B.C. before, off the beaten tracks of the Okanogan and Vancouver areas, you have most certainly past the ghost towns throughout the province. Places of former prosperity now entirely abandoned save for a small tour company. Chemainus was set to join these ranks.

8.1M X 3M (27’ X 10’), WILLOW STREET - Painted in 1982 by Frank Lewis and Nancy Lagana, Victoria, B.C.

WILLOW STREET (1982) by Frank Lewis & Nancy Lagana

But rather than pick up and seek work elsewhere, the small town looked inwards and wondered how to diversify their community’s industries, to join the new post-Ford economy and not only survive, but thrive.

The answer came with murals, a way for locals to join the growing arts scene on Vancouver Island while bringing in tourists that come from around the world. The murals, like other similar projects, depict the history of the town along with the town’s identity. Local Indigenous tribes are found, along with the history of European settlement and development. The murals incorporate many distinctive styles rather than attempting a consistent look, proving the project relies on artistic vision just as much as community involvement. The town’s website discusses the increased artistic freedom they allow their muralists, which have created some unique pieces that even businesses like Subway are keen to encourage.

TEMPORARY HOMES (1983) by David White

TEMPORARY HOMES (1983) by David White

The town also emphasizes a unique aspect of street art different from art hanging in galleries: the openness of the process. Street art frequently requires artists to work out in the open and the piece itself can be seen in various stages from inception to completion. Chemainus encourages locals and tourists to interact and talk with the artists as the work happens. Such openness encourages interaction and, hopefully, can inspire others to learn more about street art and Chemainus.

The project originated with a series of grants from the Canadian government which helped Chemainus redevelop their image and attract tourism to the town. These grants have now since been used and Chemainus relies on its own economy to continue their murals and other tourism strategies. They continue to diversify, taking advantage of their location between Victoria and Nanaimo, and local prjects include sinking Boeing 737 to create an artificial reef.

Chemainus’ economic redevelopment has put them in a small collection of even smaller communities able to diversify successfully and their success has created a number of spin-off projects not only throughout Canada, but around the world. Stony Plain, Alberta; Moosejaw, Saskatchewan; Oshawa, Ontario, along with cities in Illinois, California, and Tasmania have all used Chemainus’ strategies to inject art and money into their struggling local economies.

It should be noted that Chemainus’ economic development has not entirely eliminated its dependence on logging, which still remains the cities biggest employer and sector. The murals, however, represent a successful intersection of art and economic revitalization, proving the power street art has to help a community both aesthetically and economically.

For more information be sure to check out their mural website, muraltown.com.

street art toronto mural

StreetArtToronto: Bringing Street Art, Well, Back to the Streets

The line between graffiti and street art is a fine one, very fine, but at least Toronto is encouraging the many talented street artists that live in this fair city. And after a winter like ours, I’m sure there are plenty of people looking to hit the streets and bring some colour back into Toronto. But the divide between street artists expressing themselves and people crying vandalism sometimes gets entrenched, leading to people writing off an entire medium of art because of local vandals.

That’s where StART Toronto comes in, a grant program encouraging street artists to add some flair to Toronto’s streets and help at-risk youth and adults contribute to the city’s overall look.

StART is truly multifaceted in its approach, offering grants and taking proposals to help everyone involved in street art, from victims to professional artists. Programs like RE StART specifically targets at-risk members of the community with programs that encourage artistic expression while respecting the rules of street art, like putting it where its wanted and not on historic buildings. People interested in starting programs for at-risk street artists can receive up to $20,000 in grant money, and maybe even produce a few future artists along the way.

But for people who have been victimized by street art, the StART Support Mural Program is probably the most interesting. People who have experienced unwanted graffiti can apply to the program and, instead of getting the unwanted art simply washed off, get a local muralist to paint something welcome and better. With the Mural Support Program, the city is finding practical solutions to unwanted street art without discrediting the artistry that our talented street artists have. Instead of encouraging people to be bitter towards street artists and vice versa, Mural Support brings them together for something mutually beneficial.

And, for the truly ambitious, the city has set up “Outside the Box,” a program where artists can transform traffic signal cabinets into works of art. So far, 10 boxes at intersections around the city have been donated to the program, with another 20 reported this month. For a full list of intersections, visit the StART website here.

Because the programs are for literally everyone, StART is working to prove street art can be more than unsightly tags, that it can instead be integrated into how we live in a city. Programs like the Underpass Program is looking to integrate street art into a revitalization of the underpass, using art to encourage a safer and brighter area where people would want to walk, rather than rush through.

StART’s programs are looking for viable solutions to not only bring artists and residents together, but demonstrate that street art is a vital part of any urban space. Instead of condemning all graffiti, a popular tactic in many cities, Toronto is looking to bring people together, help those at-risk, and encourage people to enjoy this great city even more. That all sounds like a great idea.