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Growing from 22 graffiti writers to 120 the secret to the festival’s success is word-of-mouth integration and accessibility.

Justin Desforges

It's been 20 years that Montreal's Under Pressure Graffiti Festival has been celebrating urban art and culture, with a milestone anniversary happening Aug. 8 and 9.

"We realized we didn't have the credibility we needed and that the city, police and media were not really aware of street-art culture," co-founder Sterling Downey says of the festival's origins. The formula remains simple: It's a block party meant to balance the discussion and build public art spaces. "It's about giving people a chance to be part of something."

Growing from 22 graffiti writers to 120 (plus 70 DJs and anywhere from 8,000 to 20,000 spectators), the secret to UP's success is word-of-mouth integration and accessibility. Everyone's a volunteer and most events are free or $5, which goes toward production overhead and a high school arts bursary program.

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One might think a dialogue about the role of local street art would evolve in two decades, but organizers say an unfortunate rhetoric still exists about what graffiti can be. "That might never go away," program co-ordinator Melissa Proietti says, "but creating these spaces makes the perception shift. We're here to stimulate that conversation."

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