Whyte Avenue mural-alley to highlight talented local artists

EDMONTON – Graffiti doesn’t always have positive connotations. But the City of Edmonton is actively trying to change that with a new mural-alley.

The idea was spurred following the closure of two popular graffiti spots.

A few years ago, a pilot project was launched to give artists a chance to legally express themselves in a safe environment.

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    Capital City Clean-Up manager, Don Belanger, explained: “we tried it in Mill Woods in a residential area and we tried it here in Strathcona on the back of Tirecraft to see if we create a free-wall where people could come and do tagging and not be worried about safety or fear being charged.”

    Anyone could paint whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted on the designated free-walls. They were used constantly, with new art popping up daily.

    “People got their wedding photos in front of it,” said The Paint Spot’s owner, Kim Fjordbotten. “There were bands taking that as the background for their promotional pictures.”

    But the city determined continuing with the pilot-project was not financially viable. There was too much graffiti spilling over into the surrounding communities.

    “Enforcement officers being involved in monitoring would cost a lot of dollars,” said Belanger. “The community itself would have to pay dollars to have graffiti removed from their properties.”

    At the end of March, the free-walls were shut down, permanently.

    Not wanting to take away all the opportunities for local artists, the city worked with the Edmonton Arts Council and art-supply store The Paint Spot to come up with a new street-art project.

    “That’s where the street art alley came into being with the transitory and permanent mural art that will line this alley.”

    The first of many murals has already been completed on the back of the Tirecraft on Whyte Avenue. It features a creative alphabet and was designed by three local artists, A.J.A Louden, Clayton Lowe and Evan Brunt.

    Brunt said he’s happy to hear about additional space for artists. “I think the more walls with colour on them or something of substance, the better. It’s something that’s important Edmonton does to stay current with the art scene.”

    Artists are paid for their work on each mural.

    “From a tagging sense, it does protect the wall,” said Belanger, “because art is looked upon slightly differently than a blank wall.”

    Other building owners have already expressed interest in having their own contributions.

    “The church is also very interested in a mural here, so immediately you could see that you’d have a density of murals for mural alley here,” said the Arts Council’s Katherine Kerr.

    Six murals will also be painted on the large purple canvas that is The Paint Spot.

    “From day one I wanted to have an outdoor gallery to showcase the artists that I love and the diversity of art-making,” explained Fjordbotten.

    Dozens of local artists, as well as people from Ontario and the United States applied to be featured.

    “77 applications blew me away. If I could find a home for each and every one of them, they’re all calibre, I’d want them all.”

    Everyone involved in the mural-alley is hopeful a successful project off Whyte Avenue will spur other mural-alleys around the city.

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