'Debacle' leads to alleyway murals being painted over in black

A community project meant to beautify a Toronto laneway has turned into “a debacle” for homeowners after work by some of the city’s top graffiti artists was painted over, turning a colourful public space into an alley of black paint.

The Laneway Project taking responsibility for mishap and will paint new murals in Queen and Ossington area

Local residents were shocked to see their garages painted black with a stencilled letter, which was not what the alleyway beautification project called for. (Angelina King/CBC)

A community project meant to beautify a Toronto laneway has turned into "a debacle" for homeowners after work by some of the city's top graffiti artists was painted over, turning a colourful public space into an alley of black paint.

The alleyway near Queen Street and Ossington Avenue has attracted tourists and locals alike for years after an art promotion group teamed up with homeowners and street artists to paint murals on a number of garages.

A different group, The Laneway Project, launched a new initiative this year, and convinced seven homeowners to get new murals. Work began on Sept. 11.

But instead of seven murals, 26 garages were painted black with a stencil of a letter on each.

That's angering the artists who first beautified the laneway.

"It's just an unfortunate incident, or debacle as I call it," Steve Ferrara of Well and Good, the agency that oversaw the original mural installations, told CBC Toronto.

'A lot of consternation'

The Laneway Project, a non-profit, hired a curator to secure an artist and oversee the installation of the new murals.

"We are as frustrated as those whose property has been affected, the artists whose original mural work was covered and community members who've appreciated their work," Michelle Senayah, co-founder and executive director of The Laneway Project, said in a statement to CBC Toronto.

The remnants of an original mural can be seen under black paint and stencilled letters. (Angelina King/CBC)

According to Senayah, a "project map" provided to the curator showed where the murals and other improvements were to be done, including specific addresses, approved surfaces and property parameters.

"Instead of proceeding as directed, the artist contracted by the curator proceeded to paint 26 murals in complete disregard of our instructions, the wishes of local residents and the existing work of talented local muralists," she said.

CBC Toronto has made contact with the artist and is hoping to speak with him Tuesday.

Local resident Matt Willis had signed up for a mural, but his garage was actually left untouched.

"There was obviously a lot of consternation amongst our neighbours," Willis told CBC. "That wasn't what was expected and I know there's quite a lot of disappointment because there was a lot of popular artwork that's been covered up."

Meg Crossley, another local resident, said she was "quite disappointed" to see the mural on her property painted over.

"It was disappointing because I think that what was put up instead isn't interesting," Crossley told CBC. "So some really good urban art is gone so someone can put up an alphabet. It's kind of strange."

She received an apology letter from The Laneway Project, she said, which she accepted. She is also "pleased" that the agency is committed to making things right.

'Pretty insulting'

Senayah said the curator has been fired, and The Laneway Project team is offering to repaint the garages and paint new murals.

"We recognize that although this happened contrary to our instructions, it's our responsibility as the project lead to make it right," she said in her statement.

Erin Zimerman, the graffiti artist who goes by Rock, said he has learned to embrace the 'impermanence' of his work but the way his laneway mural was painted over is 'pretty insulting.' (Submitted by Erin Zimerman)

Erin Zimerman, whose does graffiti under the name Rock, said he was "shocked" to see images of his original mural painted over in the alley.

"Being a graffiti artist, there's an impermanence to what we do that we've all kind of embraced to a degree," Zimerman told CBC. "Usually it's not on a big community project. Usually those things last forever."

He sometimes paints over his own work, he said.

"So I can't say that I'm that sad to see it go," he said. "But the way that it went is pretty insulting."

He said he'd welcome the opportunity to go back and do a new piece.

'Art is important'

Walking down the alleyway for the first time since changes, Ferrara lamented the loss of the work he and his team had years ago commissioned.

"In some ways it's not OK. There is a lot of history here," he said.

Steve Ferrara is a founder of Well and Good, the agency that commissioned the murals that were painted in the laneway seven years ago. (Angelina King/CBC)

But he has spoken to staff at The Laneway Project and will assist with correcting the work. Seven years ago when Well and Good commissioned the original murals, it was through a program called Brighten the Corners, which was aimed at making parts of the city some people may not want to walk through more inviting.

"Art is important for a number of reasons, but especially in communities and neighbourhoods," Ferrara said. "It brightens it up and makes it more welcoming for people who want to take a different path."

With files from Angelina King


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