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Toronto's "Sister Cities Artist Exchange Program"
A StART for Justus Becker

Mural by Justus Becker
A mural by Justus Becker | © Photo: Nicole Visual Bass

In the Fall of 2019, Frankfurt street artist Justus Becker followed the invitation of the Goethe-Institut to Toronto to work on a site-specific piece of artwork in the city's east end. The internationally renowned artist participated in the "Sister Cities Artist Exchange Program" under the motto “Diversity is our Strength".

Becker created an abstract yet detailed painting featuring a face and the Frankfurt skyline on the side of a building at 20 Charles Street East. You can watch a video of the piece as it’s being created here. StART programs are designed for street and public spaces. It began in 2012 as part of the city’s Graffiti Management Plan in an effort to reduce vandalism and “replace graffiti with vibrant, colourful, community-engaged street art.” Artwork has appeared in laneways, on traffic signal boxes, underpasses, on businesses and more. As Justus Becker’s counterpart, Toronto artist Alexander Lazich will create a piece  in Frankfurt in 2020. We caught up with Justus Becker after he finished his mural to chat about the piece and his work. The interview has been condensed and edited.

How long did the process take?

I was planning on one day of doing the primer and another day of sketching, but it was too rainy to complete in the two days. So in the end it took five days to complete, but on the last day I just had the bottom with the bottom left. For the launch we're expecting both the Mayor of Toronto, John Tory, and the mayor of Frankfurt, Peter Feldmann, who will cut the ribbon.
 
In terms of Street Art, do you see any similarities between Frankfurt and Toronto? Michael Thompson, Justus Becker, Peter Feldmann Michael Thompson, Justus Becker, Peter Feldmann on the turf | © Jutta Brendemühl
 
I think there are more differences than commonalities - both cities have great artists who do really nice work. But if you look at the support street artists are getting, you start to see the differences. Toronto has this great project for instance, the Street Art Toronto, which supports so many artists and art projects. This sort of thing doesn't exist in Frankfurt, which in all fairness is much smaller, so cultural funding of this kind and scope is simply not possible.
 
It might be the start of an idea though.
 
The lack of funding doesn't prevent art from being created, but it's much harder to sustain a living as an artist, and of course there is less art in total. But we will see - maybe this model will inspire Peter Feldmann [the mayor of Frankfurt] so some similar type of project. I will try to steer the conversation in that direction when he shows up to cut the ribbon [laughs]. 
 

Street artist Justus Becker aka COR was involved in street art from a young age, getting arrested several times and earning a reputation for being one of the best sprayers in the Frankfurt area. His trademark are photo-realistic faces, which proved to also be a good choice from an economic perspective: COR is one of the few street artists who can accept commissions from companies without losing their credibility. He alienates the photo-realistic motifs with abstract colours and shapes to add meaning and, sometimes, context. More recently he made waves with his mural of Alan Kurdi, the little Syrian boy who died trying to flee his country, adding his voice to the international outcry over the humanitarian catastrophy taking place in the Baltic Sea. Up to the present day, the creation of larger-than-life murals is central to his work and, to put it in his own words, his "main gallery remains the street" in spite of his participation in group and single exhibitions throughout the globe.
 

StART 

StART is a suite of innovative programs by the City of Toronto designed specifically for streets and public spaces. Beginning in 2012, it began as an integral part of the City of Toronto's Graffiti Management Plan, StART has been successful in placing vibrant, colourful, community-engaged street art in Toronto.

StART developed street art and murals as a place-making tool that fosters community engagement, inclusion, skills development and civic pride. The program aims to add colour and vitality to neighbourhoods. Several laneways around the city have been transformed through bright colours and artwork. The Underpass Program transforms underpasses and bridges (many near the Don River and along the Waterfront) to encourage walkability all while showcasing the talent and creativity of artists, arts organizations and the City of Toronto.

The 2019-2020 Frankfurt-Toronto sister city exchange with artists Justus Becker and Alex Lazich is a joint project by the City of Toronto, the City of Frankfurt and the Goethe-Institut Toronto.

Learn more about StART here.

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