Street Art in Graffiti Alley, Toronto

The colorfully-painted walls of Toronto’s Graffiti Alley

photography by: Omri Westmark

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More often than not, graffiti is viewed as a form of vandalism and as such, is tackled by the authorities with various preventive measures, including regulatory actions and law enforcement. Sometimes though, this worldwide phenomenon is not only tolerated, but downright encouraged. Such is the case of Graffiti Alley in Toronto, a treasure trove of street art right in the middle of Canada’s largest city.

In many parts of the globe, spraying your thoughts on public property still carries a host of negative connotations. After all, this practice was first and foremost a medium to propagate political and cultural messages that often don’t resonate with the political establishment.


In recent decades, however, graffiti is associated more and more with whimsical murals rather than guerilla tagging, thus blurring the line between vandalism and art. For years on end, Rush Lane in downtown Toronto was dotted with gobs of illicit street artworks, just meters away from the parallel Queen Street, one of the city’s primary thoroughfares.

In 2012, the local authorities opted to make lemonade out of the lemons by legalizing street art throughout the alleyway, aptly renaming it “Graffiti Alley”. Shortly thereafter, a citywide initiative entitled “StreetARToronto” (aka StART) was established to regulate the types of art taggers are allowed to create, and by doing so, reducing the extent of the unsightly cacophony which previously reigned supreme.


In the years that followed, the exterior walls along the alleyway became a canvas for illustrious artists, including uber5000, Skam, ELICSER, Spud and Poser, among many others. Due to their transient nature, many of the murals here only grace the walls for a few years at best, as those are replaced periodically by newer creations.


Spanning across three blocks, the one-kilometer-long lane now boasts a nonpareil hodgepodge of vibrant and colorful murals, many of which depict the lesser-known facets of Toronto, while others feature a dash of psychedelic art. The graffitied street also occasionally hosts a couple of events, the most notable among them is a legal painting session that lasts for 24 hours.