The Problem with Rob Ford’s War on Graffiti

Toronto’s mayor Rob Ford declared war on graffiti & street art. The problem with governments declaring war on concepts (for example: drugs, graffiti, terrorism) is that a concept is undefined. Where does art end, street art begin, where does graffiti turn into street art, and when does street art become tagging?

(photo by: Peter J. Thompson)

“It’s going to be spotless. You go downtown now, you see all the graffiti — you aren’t going to have any graffiti there.”

That’s a quote from March 2010. You tell me Toronto, how’s the downtown area – any graffiti?

The problem

The more you clamp down on accepted (albeit illegal) walls where graffiti thrives and artists spend hours perfecting their work, the less time graffiti artists have, the less time they spend, and soon walls are covered with throw-ups which take minutes to complete (and most people find ugly). Clamp tighter and the artists have less time, turning to faster forms of producing their mark… stencils and tags.

And they exist in the hundreds, if not thousands, in Toronto.


It should be mentioned that this is proportional in the other social direction as well: stencils like that shown above take minimal effort & minimal time to complete meaning the boundaries of where these can be placed expand – and that means into more places you don’t want it.


Above are two examples of an artist (in one case a stencil artist, the other a graffiti artist) striking back at the mayor’s declaration of war.

The reality is…

The struggle to battle something as fast as a tag, which takes mere seconds to produce is an uphill battle, to say the least. Graffiti is not solely a first world problem. In developing Countries it is utilized by the people to raise political awareness as well as for other social commentary. In many cases the graffiti writers aren’t artists at all, just people without a voice creating one for themselves. In a lot of ways, graffiti art as an artform in Canada lacks that same voice.

It’s not just graffiti artists who are upset by the declaration of war…



A letter to the Mayor (Rob Ford)

Dear Rob & his mindless supporters,

Graffiti is a legitimate artform whether you understand it or not.

The line between good art and bad art isn’t drawn at being able to distinguish what the artist is trying to communicate. Art is subjective, emotional, and meaningful. All art is meaningful to someone. I’m not asking that you leave every tag running, if you feel the need then by all means dedicate some of our tax money to cleaning it, though I will say tagging will never be abolished completely, so don’t dedicate too much, please and thank you.

What I propose is to encourage & support street art. Let the streets be colourful, artistic, and filled with stories from artists of every background; this will foster creativity. It will foster new, more, and better artists to take to the streets and let their work be shown. The change won’t be instant. It will take years for artists to come out of their shells and give the streets a try. Right now street art is created only by those who want to share their message enough to risk arrest, a hefty fine, and possible jail time, not to mention death. It will take time for those artists not yet agressive enough to take to the streets, to gain confidence, take to the streets, and appreciate art truly made for public viewing – free of financial interest.

The change will breed a nation of people interested in art & hand-crafted ideas, creativity, forward-thinking, and open-discussion of social issues. This will make us a healthier, stronger society.

But what do I know, I’m just another tagger who thinks you’re a bigot cracker interested in fearmonging and locking up the troubled, oppressed youth of today instead of trying to help them.



P.S. Since I personally think Rob Ford’s an idiot, I’m adding another, unrelated, idiotic quote from him:

“I can’t support bike lanes. Roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks. My heart bleeds when someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”

Okay, Robbie. Okay.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Bob Frezno

    People, those of you who support downtown agendas or think the
    public should spend money on arts and culture, please take one moment
    and consider history. Every great civilization of the past has fallen
    from within due to certain forms of overspending on cities, their
    culture and buildings therein. Every great civilization that has spanned
    a continent has failed due to over-taxation of the working class and
    farmers. Don’t take my word for it read some global history, I would
    recommend for starters, Chris Harman, A peoples history of the world. I
    know it’s nice to have opera houses, bike lanes and arts endowments but
    the truth is that none of that keeps us going economically, what does
    keep us going is cheap and abundant food and plenty of gainful
    employment. Thanks Rob Ford for getting started with this work, I would
    invite you to read the book as well, if we don’t know our history we
    will most certainly repeat it, lets try to repeat the good parts only.

  2. opeklife

    Hey Bob, I appreciate the comment though I dont understand your approach, it seems extreme and unrealistic. Providing bike lanes isn’t our society failing… It’s just providing further means of transportation. How could someone who prefers biking to work over driving possibly affect our existence?

    You say yourself that civilizations fail on over-taxation. Where do you think the money’s coming from to clean Toronto’s graffiti? By that rationale you should be wanting him to leave the walls alone.

    The reality of the matter is that opera houses don’t topple societies, nor does graffiti. You know that, I know that, we all know that. While Rob Ford is creating temporary jobs for people – cleaning Toronto’s downtown core of spray paint – he is hardly saving our existence from the depths of desolation.

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