By Rose Behar
Halifax is known for its bustling arts scene. From boutique maritime art to avant-garde modern work, students and connoisseurs can attest to the fact that there is no lack of creativity in this port city.
But among all of this, there is one very active art group in the city that gets little or no official recognition.
In fact, some argue whether it is art at all– it’s street art.
Street art can be the work of graffiti artists, sculptors, painters, even knitters. It’s art meant to make an impact on the public as they go about their daily lives, with no cost associated.
Even the most humble graffiti can be classified as street art, but there is a clear hierarchy of talent on the streets and the tag of a good artist can become legendary.
Consider, for example, British street artist Banksy, who revolutionized the art world with many of his daring installations and prints. Some of Banksy’s most notorious pieces include the folding of an iconic UK phone-booth in half and the graffiting of a wall in disputed land between Palestine and Israel, the West Bank.
Although no stunts so daring as the legendary “West Banksy” work have been attempted in Halifax, street art culture in the city is thriving.
Some well-known pieces include the sidewalk tag of Dr. House, a character from a popular television show, and the banana peel stencil.
Third-year King’s student Ben Harrison says he thinks street art is a very effective communication tool.
“It directly communicates to the cultures in the city,” says Harrison, “It cuts out the exhibition or the art gallery or any sort of buffer that stands between the citizen and the art.”
But while some agree that street art is a powerful medium, some are less impressed.
Dalhousie student Phil Taber says he finds street art “generally uninspiring,” and adds that he prefers more classical forms of art.
Graffiti as advertisement
This past December, Haligonian artist Scott Saunders launched one of the largest downtown street art installations in recent memory, in the vacant lot where the widely-debated new convention centre will soon be built.
Partnering with the city, as well as Rank Inc. and the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, Saunders strewed mannequins outfitted in dress shirts and suits throughout the lot in lifeless positions, giving the area an eerie, apocalyptic vibe. The artist has not been explicit about his intended message in interviews.
This installation marks a new type of street art for Halifax, one with bigger sponsors and a more accessible reach than the tags and stickers so liberally spread around Gottingen Street.
In addition, businesses themselves have taken up the trend, using stickers and insignias as a form of guerilla marketing. The smiling face of “Smoke’s Poutinerie” can be seen on lamp posts and benches throughout the city, for example.
With this kind of corporate acceptance, will the street art scene in Halifax become a recognized form of art? Can we expect to see a street art course enter the curriculum at NSCAD?
It is a possibility. However, one can’t help but think that Banksy wouldn’t encourage such actions. His movie Exit Through the Gift Shop mocked the whims of the trendy art world in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, pointing out that anything can be sold as art with enough hype.