September 22, 2020

BY KRIS MANUEL

It’s always a question whether the spray paint spread across a building wall is an act of vandalism or a work of art, whether those illicit writings on a property are a public nuisance or express an important message about social issues.

However, for one day at least, graffiti was celebrated as art at Guelph’s very first Graffiti Fest.

Sonya Poweska, executive director of the Guelph Arts Council, said it’s important that graffiti artists are recognized for their work.

“I think that it is so often seen as a violent form of art where people are coming and destroying the city,” she said.

However, she said she hopes it will make people see graffiti in a different light other than the vandalism aspect.

Street artists usually transform the walls of buildings into their own canvases of spray paint. However, at the Sept. 29 festival spectators were able to watch the artists create their art on boards, which were formerly construction site road signs.

Poweska said the event is a great opportunity for street artists.

“It allows them to explore their creativity and legitimize their art in a really productive community event,” she said.

It took hours for most of the artists to complete their pieces. Sounds of aerosol cans being shaken and sprayed were heard throughout the event, and some artists were seen wearing masks to protect themselves from inhaling the fumes.

Cork Street in downtown Guelph was closed to traffic so the approximately 20 artists could create and display their artwork. The Downtown Guelph Business Association put the event together.

The wide variety of designs on the boards showed just how differently the artists expressed themselves.

Cooper Lang, a graffiti artist who participated at the event, said he chooses to create graffiti art as a form of therapy.

“It’s a freedom of expression,” he said. “You’re not locked in with a particular style, you can change it any time you want to, you can be influenced by any one of these people that are painting today and it constantly evolves.”

Sam Jewell, events co-ordinator, credits the owner of the Flour Barrel, a grocery store in downtown Guelph, with the festival idea. He came across a graffiti festival when he was in Melbourne, Australia and thought it was a great idea.

Jewell said she received a ton of interest from local artists but she could only reserve a certain number of boards. One artist, James Mclean, created a mural on a wall of The Joint Café with the help of others. There were also two public boards where visitors could create their own artwork or comments using markers or spray paint.

A hip-hop vibe was brought to the street with music, break-dancing and rap performances from the Skeleton Krew. Some members of Guelph Spoken Word also dropped by to present poems that were performed aloud.

Graffiti Fest, along with other local events held that weekend, were also part of the Canada-wide celebration of arts and culture called Culture Days, held from Sept. 28 to 30. Hundreds of communities participated across the country and held thousands of free events for the public.

Lang said he enjoyed Guelph’s artistic event.

“I think that this is fantastic. It’s their first event and it’s a very positive turnout,” he said. “I think there are way too many grey walls in this city. There are a million artists and we should just fill it up and bring some life into this city.”