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The power of street art to transform communities

The other day I happened to catch a news piece online about a new exhibition called Beyond the Streets, which is the largest exhibition of graffiti and street art ever presented.  The exhibition explores on a large scale how these illegal forms of cultural expression have moved from the fringes to the mainstream and how public attitudes have shifted from negative to positive.

Street art — that is, art situated in the public realm that uses vibrant visuals and images — is particularly interesting because of the ways in which it demonstrates the artist’s power of imagination and creativity to transform ordinary public spaces into something extraordinary. All art can be transformative but street art is unique because of its availability and accessibility and for the ways in which it can connect people to art and energize the public realm.

As the news piece explores, street art has come a long way in recent years. It has evolved from being seen simply as vandalism to something that is now widely accepted as innovative, creative and legitimate. Street art enables artists to claim space, display their creativity and transform space in unexpected ways. It also drives tourism as exemplified by programs such as Mural Festival in Montreal and the Up Here festival in Sudbury.

Street art is found around the world and many cities have created street art walking tours but, more often than not, street art is something people stumble over as is the case with my colleague Julie Fossitt (@juliefossitt) who has been documenting the street art she’s discovered during her travels in places like Montreal and Halifax.

Mural in Montreal
Street art mural in Montreal.

Street art mural in HalifaxStreet art mural in Halifax.    

Kingston is now experimenting with street art through the pilot project called Street Art Wall that establishes the Rideaucrest retaining wall adjacent to Douglas Fluhrer Park as a legal wall available to the community to use to create street art and murals.  This pilot project was prompted by community interest and also aligns with the City of Kingston’s own Public Art Master Plan that champions the need to create temporary public art projects such as the Street Art Wall and Paved Paradise as well as temporary installations in City facilities like the INVISTA Centre.

Legal wall in Douglas Fluhrer Park
Project signage located adjacent to the Street Art Wall, near Douglas Fluhrer Park. Photo credit: City of Kingston staff.

Legal wall in Douglas Fluhrer Park.
Kingston’s first “legal” Street Art Wall at the retaining wall adjacent to Douglas Fluhrer Park (Wellington and Bay Street).

Kingston’s own Street Art Wall is now open and will be accessible until April 2020.  Its aim is to support new work creation and to encourage local artists to explore the medium of street art and graffiti art.  Guidelines and an FAQ document have been published on the project page on the City of Kingston website that can be found here: https://www.cityofkingston.ca/city-hall/projects-construction/street-art-wall.

We are also encouraging the community to share their photos of street art in Kingston using the hashtag #YGKStreetArtWall. With the launch of this project, and changing attitudes toward street art, we hope to expand how art in Kingston is defined and that street art will emerge as a form of expression that highlights local talent, stories and issues in ways that enliven our community and that fosters interest and discussion.

Colin Wiginton
Colin Wiginton
Cultural director
Find out more about Colin.