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Home / Arts / Toronto’s ‘Grit’ laneway murals reflect diversity and resilience of El Mocambo, Chinatown and Kensington neighbourhoods

Toronto’s ‘Grit’ laneway murals reflect diversity and resilience of El Mocambo, Chinatown and Kensington neighbourhoods

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A new series of murals and graffiti art themed ‘Grit’ will celebrate the resilience demonstrated by local businesses and the surrounding communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The laneway mural project, launching today, will also illustrate the strength and history of the Chinatown and Kensington neighbourhoods, and showcase the resurgence of the legendary El Mocambo music venue.

For the grand unveiling Toronto’s Mayor John Tory, Tony Louie – President of Chinatown BIA and Michael Wekerle owner of the El Mocambo were in attendance, while Toronto alt-rockers Harm and Ease revved up a captive audience with their own stylish and unique brand of original and cover tunes.

The murals can be found in the laneway behind El Mocambo (464 Spadina Ave.), on the west side of Spadina Avenue south of College Street in Toronto starting today. The Grit laneway project is the brainchild of curator Anne Marie Power and has been delivered in partnership with the City of Toronto’s StreetARToronto program. Catherine Campbell of Street Art Toronto provided project management direction, while local businesses including El Mocambo and Gwartzman’s Art Supplies, and the Chinatown Business Improvement Area (BIA).

The 24 murals in the series were conceptualized and painted by 25 diverse local street, mural and graffiti artists – many of whom have painted murals in the laneway for years, if not decades.

“I’m thrilled that one of Toronto’s most revered music venues is getting ready to rock once again. This gritty and bold laneway mural series will help build energy toward the El Mocambo’s grand re-opening and celebrate the resurgence of the music venue as well as the bravery and resilience of the hard-working community and businesses that surround it. Thank you to the El Mocambo, Chinatown BIA, City staff, and the twenty-five diverse and talented street, mural and graffiti artists who came together to create these stunning and powerful murals during ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art.”– Mayor John Tory

Artists interpreted the theme in their own way and were challenged to use a sandpaper grit colour palette to link their artwork with that of adjacent artists. With nearly three decades of artwork production on the streets, Amos Danniels (a.k.a. ‘SIGHT’) led the project as co-curator and project manager, along with Project Coordinator Nishina Loft.

“The El Mocambo, the surrounding neighbourhood and stunning murals all showcase and celebrate the amazing creative and diverse talent in Toronto. This neighbourhood has survived many challenges and demonstrated a great amount of resilience navigating the pandemic. It is indeed the people that are the heart of our community and we are happy to celebrate their courage and strength with The GRIT laneway project.”– Michael Wekerle, owner of The El Mocambo

El Mocambo, which has hosted world famous rock bands such as The Police, Rolling Stones, U2 and Elvis Costello, has been mostly closed to the public since 2014 to undergo significant renovations. A grand public reopening celebration of this historic Toronto landmark is scheduled for October 30 and this project represents one of the many launch-events leading up to the venue’s reopening.

“The key purposes of CBIA are to preserve the Chinese heritage and culture, improve on Chinatown’s streetscape, health and safety, and to create exciting community events and projects to promote the area and draw visitors and locals to eat, shop, and explore the neighbourhood. There is a role for each of us in embracing diversity and bringing about inclusion and I am thankful that this collection of local artists have used their talent and platform to advocate for those who have worked hard in our community to keep our stories alive.”– Tonny Louie, Executive Chair of the Chinatown BIA Committee

Murals completed through this project are part of the ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021-2022, a year-long celebration of art and community.

StreetARToronto (StART) is an initiative of the City and includes a suite of innovative city-building programs intentionally designed to showcase, celebrate and support street, mural and graffiti artists and art throughout Toronto. StART’s suite of nine programs, career development ladder, and skills building pipeline provide artists and curators with an integrated system of support and professional development that is positioning Toronto as a centre for street, mural and graffiti art. StART programs and projects are rooted in values that demonstrate the positive and powerful impacts of diversity, representation and inclusion.

Learn more about StreetARToronto at www.toronto.ca/streetARToronto.

ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021-2022 is delivering major public art projects and commissions across the city from fall 2021 to fall 2022. Supporting local artists and new artworks that reflect Toronto’s diversity and celebrate Toronto’s history, ArtworxTO is creating more opportunities for Torontonians to engage with art, as part of one of the largest arts and culture investments in the City’s history.

Read more information about ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021-2022 .

See more than 1,000 works of street, mural and graffiti art on the StreetARToronto map.

More information on the Year of Public Art is available at www.toronto.ca/explore-enjoy/history-art-culture/public-art/year-of-public-art/.

by Terry Lankstead with extensive notes from City of Toronto

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