YYZ Why?: Graffiti Alley evolved to become a top Toronto destination

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WATCH ABOVE: Toronto's Graffiti Alley has become a must-see stop for tourists and a popular place for photo shoots and selfies but it wasn't always a celebrated landmark. Melanie Zettler finds out why and how the alley evolved to become one of Toronto's most visited spots – Aug 8, 2019

Any time of day, any day of the week, there is a steady stream of tourists and social media fans looking to take selfies at Toronto’s Graffiti Alley.

It’s a hot spot for professional photo shoots and wedding pictures too but the now-celebrated alley near Spadina Avenue and Richmond Street West was born through illegal artistic expression and perseverance. In the alley’s early days, graffiti artists and writers would usually create their works in secret and in the middle of the night.

Janna Van Hoof told Global News she wanted to bring the artists out of the darkness and decided to try to organize the artists and help them to acquire the necessary property owner permission forms.

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“The City was deciding what was art and what wasn’t so, we took that on as a bit of a fight,” said Van Hoof.

“If it was done with spray paint, it was graffiti. It was bad.”

In 2003, Van Hoof produced the once-a-year, 24-hour legal graffiti event called “Style in Progress,” which continued for five years.

“We started taking all of the five elements of hip hop and pulling them together to showcase them for Toronto,” said Van Hoof.

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Duro the Third is one of Toronto’s original graffiti artists. His collaborative “Toronto” wall in the alley has remained virtually untouched for 13 years.

“Well, the rules used to be that if a writer is better than you and burns you, then you can’t go over it, right,” said Duro.

“So, this is a production that’s why nobody can go over it but if you just do your name and someone else is better at doing their name, they can go over you but somebody can go over them and so, it’s continuing this respect ladder

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And while these early day pieces gave Duro the respect from his peers, these days Duro’s work has been commissioned by Google, MGM Grand Las Vegas and Hilroy to name a few.

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He said he’s the king of “Instagram murals” and he points to the one that gave the biggest boost to his professional career: the wings at Brooklynn Bar on Queen Street West.

“I just wish people would put more effort into their pieces instead of just putting up their letters and walking away, like,\ do a whole mural, do a concept, do a movie, don’t do a one minute clip,” said Duro.

City council passed the City of Toronto’s graffiti management plan in 2011 and it ultimately gave rise to the StreetARToronto program.

A motion was passed that designated Rush Lane (graffiti alley) as an area of municipal significance, but this doesn’t mean it’s legal to paint in the alley — rather, this designation means the property owners are exempt from receiving notices of violation for graffiti vandalism on their property. Artists are still required to get permission from property owners in order to paint.

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