By Peter Saunders
Toronto-based UrbanArts is a charitable organization that has worked with schools to get young people involved in, among other activities, creating murals as a way to contribute to community development. With professional-level support, the non-profit arts council’s youth participants painted these murals on publicly visible surfaces.
Most recently—and much like the sign and graphics industry—they have turned instead to the concept of digitally printing images on vinyl and then installing them outdoors, both at street level and on the sides of high-rise buildings. This undertaking is seen not only as a way to help ‘modernize’ UrbanArts’ creative process, but also to better prepare the participants for jobs in the industry.
Supporting a new initiative
Focused on Toronto’s York South-Weston neighbourhood, UrbanArts’ goal is to build inclusive, engaged communities by enriching local people’s lives through the arts, culture and heritage, with a variety of programs, services and resources. In 2016, program manager Shah Ashraf Mohamed reached out to Jeff Uzbalis, a wide-format graphics specialist for 3M Canada, to help support the new digitally printed mural initiative, which would be partly paid for by the city of Toronto as a community pride and beautification project.
In turn, Uzbalis contacted Tony Iacobelli, president of AIP Media, a graphic installation company based in nearby Mississauga, Ont., to provide assistance in his own areas of expertise, including printing the graphics and training and supervising the youth for installation.
“I do what I can when I can, so I mentioned this project to Tony and we figured out how we could pull it off,” Uzbalis explains. “I presented my standard wall, window and floor graphics workshop to the youth at an UrbanArts facility and then they went to Tony’s shop for further learning. He even told me, ‘if they’re good, I’ll hire them!’”
“When Jeff told me about this project, he was very plugged into the concept of having these creative young people drive it,” says Iacobelli. “They were really focused on the combination of professional training and donated materials with local knowledge.”