With backgrounds in "the arts, urban design, architecture and other relevant disciplines," the city staffers that comprise Toronto's recently formed Graffiti Panel have been asked to weigh in on which of the city's graffiti is art, and deserving of protection, and which is vandalism.
According to Larry Humber, "The first session was contentious but civil, with panel members facing off against property owners who were appealing notices of violation for 'markings' on their buildings. 'Even if it's Picasso, you're not allowed to paint on other people's walls,' says Elyse Parker, a city official who is leading Toronto's crackdown on graffiti."
There is precedent in the city for the protection of street art, however, with the City Council having "already given its blessing to what is known as Graffiti Alley, a series of colourful backstreets only a few blocks from City Hall."
If the panel's first meeting is any indication, offering clear guidance will be a difficult task. "One building owner appeared with his lawyer to defend his graffiti covered walls, more than happy to let them stay," reports Humber. "The panel wasn't so sure, first opting to defer judgement, then reopening the matter before deferring it yet again. The owner was asked to reappear at the next session on 30 November. 'You can't win,' he said."