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Insight: REIBC blog > Public Art vs Graffiti in Vancouver

Public Art vs Graffiti in Vancouver

posted on 11:31 AM, July 2, 2021
Graffiti ... or public art? Credit: Shana Johnstone

What one person might consider to be a mural may be considered graffiti by another, so how can we tell the difference, and what are the implications for property owners?

The City of Vancouver has graffiti bylaws that provide for the legal distinction between graffiti and public art. When it appears on real property, the critical factor appears to be whether the work was given prior written authorization by the property owner.

“Essentially, the only difference between public art and graffiti comes down to whether the artist is given permission,” say John McLachlan and Nicole Wong of Lex Pacifica. “Graffiti is acknowledged to be a subculture that many have included into their artwork. Thanks to infamous artists like Banksy, graffiti and street art has become more mainstream. Yet under the Vancouver bylaws, it is likely that Banksy’s work would be considered graffiti and subject to prompt removal.”

But permission for the work is not the only factor. In Vancouver, mural works require an application to the City and the necessary permits. To be eligible, the mural be “… an artistically driven project led by an artist or arts organization, located in a freely accessible public area, with the property owner’s consent,” explain McLachlan and Wong. “Any elements of advertising, promotion, signage or branding, memorials to people or events, or pre-existing artwork are ineligible.”

So who approves the applications and therefore decides what constitutes public art in Vancouver? That’s the role of the Public Art Committee, whose nine members include two artists of recognized standing, three art professionals, two urban designers, one developer, and one community member.

Input Spring 2021
Download Spring 2021

Read more about public art issues in Vancouver in McLachlan and Wong’s “Public Art vs. Graffiti: A Legal Perspective” in the Spring 2021 edition of Input. Download Spring 2021

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