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Graffiti artists using vandalized communities as clean canvas

Artists Alice Blastorah, left, and Justin Pape, right, work on a mural behind Ossington Avenue Sunday, August 12, 2012 in Toronto.

Brett Gundlock/brett gundlock The Globe and Mail

Anywhere there's a wall, there's a potential for great art, Steve Ferrera believes.

The Toronto-based curator and founder of art collective Well And Good is taking an area near Ossington Avenue and Queen Street and revitalizing it with murals and graffiti through a project he calls Brighten The Corners.

The goal is to turn vandalized garage doors and walls into pieces of public art the community can be proud of instead.

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"We act as curators and advocates for graffiti and public art," said Mr. Ferrera, who founded Well And Good with his business partner Lisa Martin. "We think it's important for healthy communities."

He started Brighten The Corners in January with fellow artists and volunteers. From 2003 to 2006 he offered gallery space in his former retail fashion store on Queen Street West, where he curated work from artists in Toronto and abroad – something that his new venture aims to continue on a larger, outdoor scale.

"It's a work in progress and obviously going to live on as long as it can," Mr. Ferrera said.

One of the project's artists, Peru Dyer, 30, has been doing graffiti for half of his life, and professional work on murals for the past eight. Although he initially focused on more traditional studio work, he grew tired of what he refers to as the "gallery lifestyle," and focused on larger, mural-sized works of of public graffiti art instead.

"Having lived [in Montreal] for ten years, I've noticed the acceptance growing," he said.

For example, Mr. Dyer has been working with a non-profit collective called MU, which "only paints in low-income communities, and not rich communities that don't need beautifying."

"I paint a bunch of paintings, and I love it because you get to interact with the community," Mr. Dyer said.

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Meanwhile, artists Alexa Hatanaka and Patrick Thompson will be collaborating on a mural of their own.

Ms. Hatanaka recently graduated from OCAD with a degree in print making, but experimented with mural painting while at school – a medium, she explains, that is very different from working in a studio.

"We didn't know what the wall was going to be like," she said of the laneway's brick wall canvas. "But I think we're going to do something more abstract because of the space we have to work with."

Her partner agrees. "Today we're painting around windows," Mr. Thompson explained, "and we don't really know how it's going to work out."

Mr. Thompson grew up in Ottawa and has worked on graffiti projects since 1992. He said it's not always easy to convince the general public of the merits of graffiti art as a vehicle for revitalization and social change.

"The outcomes are not easily determined in terms of the impact on community," he said, "but a city with great art and culture is a place people want to be."

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