Debate, protests flare as SCSU heads for elections

UTSC students better take a breather Tuesday.

Today is the forum for the upcoming Scarborough Campus Students’ Union election. Wednesday night will feature a debate on the campus radio station. On Thursday, the student union holds elections, sandwiched between a sit-in at the union’s restaurant slated for closure and a Friday protest.

During last year’s election, current president Zuhair Syed was disqualified for emailing the Elections Committee using his official SCSU account, and for sending two campaigning text messages after the campaigning period had ended.

The Board of Directors subsequently rejected Syed’s disqualification and hired him as interim president. Last October, an election for the official presidency was held and Syed was re-elected. Out of more than 10,000 students, 325 voted.

Since then, the union has been plagued with allegations of mismanagement, corruption and a culture of entitlement.

This year, Syed is running for re-election against SCSU vice chair Daniel Greanya.

The campus has been active in discussion, debate and action surrounding its union’s pay raises, budget, lack of financial audits and hostility to media. These concerns, combined with SCSU’s decision to close Bluff’s, the campus restaurant, were reported in an article in the Victoria College newspaper the Strand, igniting debate and attracting national media attention.

“I’m really tired of the SCSU’s mismanagement of student funds and resources. They don’t really seem to care,” said Xiaoli Li, a fifth-year drama and English student. “This Bluff’s thing is the final nail in the coffin.”

A Facebook group called “Scarborough Campus Students Union Needs Accountability,” started by a user under the pseudonym “Buttons D Kat,” has over 60 members.

Kat, who claims to be a third-year philosophy student, told The Varsity in an e-mail that he started the group “to get the otherwise uninterested students involved in the dealings of their own union” and “to uncover some of the under-reported, and in certain cases illegal, doings of the union.”

Kat cited the questionable firing of a third-party auditor and concerns over information security. UTSC students who wish to purchase a Metropass must use a debit card. The SCSU’s card reader, which has since been replaced, was allegedly used in a debit card fraud.

“We’re seeing the quality of campus life go down considerably while the SCSU executive is consistently voting to raise their own salaries,” said Li, referring to a recent hike in SCSU executive pay that totalled $63,000. Jon Mandrozos, a fifth-year student and the administrator for the Facebook event “Bluff’s Sit In,” told The Varsity that he was denied access to executive salary records from SCSU.

All of these issues will be discussed Wednesday night on the campus’ radio show titled “The SCSU Review and 2009 Elections.”

The next day, a sit-in will take place at Bluff’s restaurant on its last day of business. The decision to close down the restaurant came after employees filed a complaint to the Ontario Ministry of Labour. Some workers claim retaliation, although Syed maintained that all firing and lay-offs were legally conducted.

Mandrozos said he was frustrated with a lack of support from SCSU for arts groups and became even more frustrated after hearing a friend had been laid off from Bluff’s.

“SCSU’s been a mess pretty much this year. I think people should be informed of what’s going on and that councils like this should be held accountable. Students have allowed them to be unaccountable for their actions,” said Mandrozos.

At the sit-in, the protestors plan to have open discussion about the student union. They have invited all SCSU executives.

“People are screaming in the dark,” said Mandrozos. “I think what they really need is a forum where they can actually sit down with someone who would represent the SCSU and address issues people are having.”

On the day of the sit-in, SCSU’s will hold annual election is to be held. Many are hoping the election will be conducted without allegations of rule breaking.

In the midst of these allegations is a petition the sit-in group plans to circulate. According to SCSU bylaws, the student body can boot all elected SCSU executives from their jobs. If 10 per cent of the student body signs a petition to remove an exec, it goes to referendum to the entire student body 20 days later.

If Syed is removed, he will not be president for the rest of the school year, but he could still win the election for next year’s executives.

Dirty laundry meets a whole lot of air

Last week, instead of showing up to his gubernatorial impeachment trial, Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich worked the talk show circuit. Blagojevich faces serious corruption charges, most notably his attempt to auction off Barack Obama’s recently vacated Illinois senate seat to the highest bidder. Yet, the politician dubbed by The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart as “Scumdog Millionaire” insists that he’s done nothing wrong—and continues to say so on major broadcast television, time and again.

Most rational humans in Rod Blagojevich’s boat would be less inclined to show their guilty faces in such a highly scrutinized public sphere, but then again, most of us would never let ourselves get there in the first place. This is because most of us are not politicians, and wired more sensibly.

There seems to be a distinct quality that most of us ordinary folks possess, that self-editing aversion to shame that keeps us mere mortals from sunning ourselves in our vices for the world to see. Politicians are an interesting case study, as they seem to disproportionately lack this fundamental behaviour-regulating tick. Political trainwrecks show us what happens when ambition combines with carelessness and entitlement on a massive scale, and they can be tantalizing to behold.

Take, for example, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer. Most of us recall the high-profile media blitz surrounding Spitzer’s revealed penchant for four-figure call girls, which led to his resignation in March 2008. Though Spitzer was eventually cleared of charges alleging his use of public funds as a paid-sex piggybank, one obvious question is left unanswered: who spends $80,000 on escorts and expects to get away with it in the first place?

Then there’s former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, whose list of criminal charges rivals Eliot Spitzer’s escort bills to near epic proportions. In January 2008, some 14,000 text messages between the mayor and his female chief of staff were uncovered which would sully the mayor’s reputation beyond repair. These texts not only explicitly detailed their extramarital affair, but also discussed their use of public funds for romantic rendezvous. In addition, the records showed that the two had conspired to fire the former deputy police chief of Detroit, despite their testimony to the contrary during the course of a public whistleblower trial in 2007. Kilpatrick was also revealed to have used public funds to cover the lease of a personal SUV, along with draining a civic fund to pay for a resort vacation for his family, and funnelling state grant money directly to his wife. The list, unbelievably, goes on.

The most astounding correlation between the blaring indiscretions of these, and most other, political blunderers is not necessarily the moral dispensation required but the sheer brazenness of their actions. Though it may be naïve to hold politicians to a higher moral standard than the rest of us, they should at least do us the courtesy of pretending to have some sense of right versus wrong. As of late, Blagojevich is whoring himself out on Larry King Live, Spitzer’s writing regular columns for Slate.com, and Kilpatrick is laughing off his jail sentence with a public flourish of defiance. Maybe what they ought to do instead is bury their heads in the sand and pretend to feel sorry. Then, they might seem human.

‘The Tamil Tigers don’t speak for me’

Last Tuesday, Gayathri Naganathan was helping set up a 24-hour public fast to draw attention to a war in Sri Lanka that has left as many as 300,000 civilians caught in the crossfire. As she went about her business, a student passing by commented that it was “interesting” that the Tamil Students’ Association was demonstrating against human rights abuses. Naganathan asked why, and the student replied that he had read that morning in the National Post that the Tamil Tigers were “slaughtering civilians” in Northern Sri Lanka.

“And then before we could even get into a discussion he walked away,” said Naganathan. “Automatically, because we’re the Tamil Students’ Association, we are terrorists?”

At about the same time that Naganathan was getting ready for the TSA’s fast, the former president of the Canadian Tamil Students’ Association was in a Brooklyn courtroom, pleading guilty to organizing a $900,000 weapons deal to provide guns and surface-to-air missile launchers to the Tamil Tigers. The group, known officially as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Canada. The 29-year-old Sathajhan Sarachandran was arrested in an undercover investigation conducted jointly by the FBI and RCMP.

Coming at a time when Tamil community groups are mobilizing to protest violence and social injustice in their home country, public speculation stirred by the confessions has forced the groups to continually reiterate that they do not support the LTTE.

Thousands have protested over the past few weeks, in front of the Sri Lankan consulate and provincial legislature, making human chains and filling University Ave. with their signs and slogans.

Despite Sri Lankan conflict’s ethnic lines, dividing the country’s Sinhalese Buddhist majority from the Tamil Hindu minority, the Toronto protests have pointedly avoided politics. Tamil-Canadians and their supporters refuse to take sides, saying that right now the only important thing is to stop the violence.

“Somehow because of the current trial, people just assume that anyone who’s taking a stand on a humanitarian issue that’s happening is automatically a terrorist,” said Naganathan.

A Globe and Mail article published last week characterized Toronto’s Tamil community as deeply connected with the LTTE and called Scarborough the “capital of Eelam.” The article anonymously quoted a letter the paper received denouncing various 24-hour public fasts in Toronto as “an attempt by Tiger supporters to ‘safeguard their Mafia LTTE leadership’ and raise funds for an ongoing fight.”

“I’m a Tamil Canadian and I can tell you that I’m not directly influenced by the Tamil Tigers,” said Naganathan. “It’s really disappointing to see especially the media jump on board with this fanaticism of terrorism,” she added. “Because that’s not the truth.”

Naganathan has said that coverage of Sarachandran’s trial takes away from the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka. “The genocide that’s happening in Sri Lanka is comparable to Rwanda, and the international community is turning a blind eye,” she said.

Milly Thanagarajah, a 28-year-old who took time off work to protest, expressed outrage over being associated with the Tigers. “Canadians think we all belong to the Tigers,” she said. “That’s like saying all Caucasians are in the Ku Klux Klan. I don’t even have a speeding ticket.”

A green plan to be envied

Unusual as it may sound, the US has decided to go green—greener than Canada. Obama is a man of his word: he is delivering on his promises, enacting bold change. These changes will affect Canada as much as the States. To demonstrate, let’s compare our governments’ “green” credentials.

Obama’s energy plan, which includes a Presidential Climate Change Action Plan, aims to increase dependence on renewable energy. The Harper government’s much anticipated budget merely toys with the idea of green energy. Obama’s praiseworthy energy plan aims to reduce US oil consumption, produce more efficient cars, and substitute ethanol for petrol. Part of Obama’s economy stimulus, the plan will invest $150 billion over the next 10 years to build clean energy, creating five million jobs in the process.

Harper’s plan for the energy sector is vague. The Harper government’s budget includes $2.4 billion for clean energy projects over the next five years. This sum creates an illusion of greenness, but cannot hide the inadequacy of the overall strategy. Obama’s plan will not only increase investment in renewable energy, it will reduce oil consumption. Unsurprisingly, the Harper government’s budget does not aim to reduce oil consumption—it tries to make fuel “clean.” Canada’s renewable energy industry, particularly the wind, solar, biomass, and hydro sectors, is not pleased with the federal budget. Conspicuously absent was any provision for expanding the ecoEnergy for Renewable Power program, which supports new power projects. Some will argue that to spare even $2.4 billion for the renewable energy sector in such economic times is more than sufficient—but is the US’s economy any better?

The gap between the Obama administration’s ambitious investment in renewable energy and the Harper government’s inadequate version of energy planning will have significant ramifications for the Canadian economy. The US has prepared itself for a transition to a sustainable economy, one that several European countries have already adopted. Canada mustn’t fall behind, but with only $2.4 billion to spare on renewable energy and no sign of policy change to reduce oil consumption, the federal government will be unable to adapt.

Canada is the largest importer of energy to the US, but Alberta’s oil sands will become less significant as US oil consumption decreases. Oil exports to the US will taper off, resulting in a major blow to our economy. In order for Canada to prosper, the Harper government has to invest substantially in renewable energy, which—believe it or not—is economically promising.

The danger of climate change has provided North America with an opportunity to boost its economy while protecting the environment. Energy prices contributed significantly to the economic slowdown, and it will be the development of renewable energy that creates better economic times. Obama has been quick to exploit these opportunities, and his pragmatic move is a wake-up call for the Harper government to do the right thing before it’s too late.

TA union reaches tentative settlement

Those fearful of a TA strike at U of T can heave a sigh for now.

U of T admin reached a tentative settlement Thursday afternoon for a three-year labour contract with CUPE 3902, the union representing TAs, course instructors, and Accessibility Service workers.

The CUPE 3902 bargaining team will present the contract to its members at a meeting this evening. If the members agree to support the tentative settlement, a ratification vote will follow.

CUPE bargaining team spokesperson Rebecca Sanders was optimistic about the agreement’s prospects for ratification.

“We feel that we did manage to address most of the core concerns that we were bargaining for, to our satisfaction. Our members will probably feel the same way.”

Though terms of the agreement will not be made public until after ratification, Sanders went on to say that the bargaining team is satisfied with the agreement.

“We feel it is a fair settlement, that’s why we’re recommending it. Obviously, every settlement leaves something to be desired, and more work can be done.”

If the tentative settlement is met with approval at tonight’s meeting, CUPE 3902 members will be able to vote for ratification by secret ballot starting this evening. Voting will continue on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the official results will be available on Wednesday night.

Should the settlement be ratified, the university will avoid the threat of a TA strike that has loomed since the expiry of the previous contract in April 2008.

Sanders said that if the agreement is rejected, the two sides would resume negotiations, and a strike would not be immediate.

Freshly Pressed

Franz Ferdinand – Tonight (Domino)

It’s been four years since their last studio release, and Franz Ferdinand have returned in fine form—the Scottish quartet’s latest effort, Tonight, is brimming with disco-inflected rhythms and infectious melodies.

While the tracklist presents a marked change from their earlier albums, it’s reassuring to hear the Glaswegian boys doing what they do best at the core of Tonight. The roaring riffs, pounding percussion, and booming vocals of Alex Kapranos combine to produce a medley of danceable grooves. It’s not quite a new sound; rather, an expansion of their old one.

The bass-heavy opener and lead single, “Ulysses,” packs a powerful punch with Kapranos alternating between a rasp and a roar. The sing-along chorus repeats a hook so catchy it’s impossible to get out of your head.

The rest of the album lives up to expectations, with “No You Girls” composed in traditional Franz style with an addictive chorus and accompanying handclaps, and the cheeky “Turn It On,” where Kapranos croons: “You know I’ll get you on your own.” New forays into electronic territory such as “Twilight Omens” deliver irresistible synth flourishes, while the eight-minute “Lucid Dreams” features a hazy, extended riff.

A number of unexpected discoveries bring the album to a close. The ethereal “Dream Again” provides a surprisingly mellow finish to a highly energetic album. The closing track, “Katherine Kiss Me” is an acoustic ballad that tells the same story as the jaunty “No You Girls” from a softer, more vulnerable perspective.

The result is a collection of fun, danceable rockers capped off with a lilting finish, as Kapranos ironically bemoans: “You leave me dancing alone.” But if this album is playing, there’s little chance of that being anyone’s fate.

—Niamh Fitzgerald

VVVV

LATE OF THE PIER – FANTASY BLACK CHANNEL (EMI)

If the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse chose to descend upon a sweaty London nightclub, it’s a reasonable assumption that “Hot Tent Blues,” the crashing minute-long intro to Late of the Pier’s full-length debut, might provide the soundtrack. But those 76 bombastic seconds of guitar and synth flourishes announce a different type of Judgment Day. After releasing four singles that set the UK underground on fire, Late of the Pier’s Fantasy Black Channel has arrived, armed with a fistful of frenetic party-starters.

It was always assumed that British nu-rave would be a short-lived fad, but Late of the Pier’s urgent, futuristic sounds are an indication that the annoying moniker isn’t ready to die just yet. In fact, the album seems to be the work of a manic bunch of garage rockers who somehow got their hands on expensive synthesizers, old drum machines, and a boatload of MDMA.

Mixing influences the way they might mix pills on a night out, “White Snake” has all the off-kilter madness of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with body-shaking grooves taking the place of head-banging riffs. While singer Samuel Dust’s lazy vocals take a backseat to the infectious synth line of “Space & the Woods,” he turns around and cranks it up to screeching hair metal territory on “Focker.”

For all their quirks, Late of the Pier are infinitely satisfying when they turn down the drug-induced mania in favour of a straightforward hook, hence the uber-cute music box instrumentation of “Random Firl” and the soaring glam-punk chorus of “Heartbeat.”

Fantasy Black Channel is the best 60-minute party you’ll find on record so far this year, and by the time you work your way down to “Bathroom Gurgle,” the debut single that set the hype machine in motion, you’ll be exhausted, dehydrated, and disoriented by the best kind of sensory overload.

—Rob Duffy

ANIMAL COLLECTIVE – Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)

Since the 1970s, 14-year-olds around the world have engaged in a similar ritual when it comes to the appreciation of complex works of art: sparking a few doobies and convincing themselves that they understand Dark Side of the Moon. In teenage logic, a month’s worth of mescaline would only begin to help me figure out what’s going on with Merriweather Post Pavilion, the latest LP from American art stars Animal Collective. It’s hard not to feel let down by the big, muddled mess that this record poured into my headphones.

The principal problem amounts to surplus. More than any of their other releases, Merriweather is desperately in need of an editor—there are choice melodies here, but damned if you can hear them under all that plinking, plunking, and pounding.

The album’s few effective songs benefit from their relative attempts to rein in their creators. Standouts include “Into the Flowers” and “Summertime Clothes,” which boasts the album’s most linear melody, relying on the endearing repetition of “I want to walk around with you.”

The rest is designed to be thought provoking, but comes off as an insipid jumble—like the irritating electronic xylophone refrain of “Daily Routine,” or the drum-circle drone vocals that drown out all discernable rhythm on “Lion in a Coma.”

Sadly, the Collective seems to have abandoned the tempo and time signature switches that made tracks on Sung Tongs, Feels, and Strawberry Jam such curious delights. The sonic experimentation that’s marked their best work has taken a turn for the worse, leading to grating synthesizers, murky feedback, and intolerable percussion (how did they find so many things that sound so shrill in one studio?). There’s something empty about complexity for complexity’s sake, and Merriweather has turned Animal Collective into a band with a cold drum machine where their heart used to be.

—Wyndham Bettencourt-McCarthy

Vv

ANDREW BIRD – NOBLE BIRD (Fat Possum)

Andrew Bird is a man of many layers. A self-proclaimed instrumentalist, Bird whistles his way into melancholia with “Oh No,” the first track on his latest record Noble Beast. He experiments throughout the album with his above-average whistling skills, and drawing on elements of jazz, folk, Latin and country, lulls his eclectic influences into a surprisingly coherent and intricate album.

“Oh No” provides a reassuring hand-clap to counter its whistled melody, while Bird exercises his linguistic powers with an unsettling vocal turn. “Masterswarm” laces a Latin beat with mournful vocals, layering a mournful violin loop interspersed with a whistled tune you’d expect to hear on the wind of an abandoned country road.

For Bird, words themselves seem to carry very little meaning, as nonsensical lyrics are crooned, relished, and repeated throughout the album. “Tenuous” picks up on a country vibe, with Bird singing confidentially, “Tenuous at best was all he had to say / When pressed about the rest of it, the world that is / From proto-Sanskrit Minoans to Porto-centric Lisboans / Greek Cypriots and harbor-sorts who hang around in quotes a lot.”

Bird seems to employ words not for their dictionary meaning, but for their linguistic power. On Noble Beast, words become tools of noise and elements of sound assuming meaning on their own terms.

Overall, Bird creates an album both exotic and intimate, something you wouldn’t be surprised to hear crooned between lovers on a South American seashore. He diverts from his traditional folk, pop, and chamber-pop influences, and in fleeting moments, captures a certain a transcendent uniqueness.

—Emily Kellogg

VVVv

TWO TONGUES – TWO TONGUES (Vagrant)

The self-titled debut of Two Tongues is a collaborative effort between Max Bemis and Coby Linder (of Say Anything fame) and Chris Conley and David Soloway of legendary New Jersey punk band Saves the Day. While one might expect a breakthrough from these pop-punk heavyweights, the album plays like a mildly interesting collection of b-sides off Say Anything’s last release.

Bemis’ gasoline vocals are as emotive as ever, though his newfound celebrity has diffused his manic tendencies, making his lyrical and vocal delivery far less convincing. Any follower of Saves the Day’s recent work will know that adding Conley’s voice yields similar results to that of a female backup vocalist. Gone are the days of Conley’s ballsy teenage vocals on early records like Can’t Slow Down and Through Being Cool. Instead, listeners are forced to endure his nasally falsetto interspersed with Bemis’ yelps about unrequited love.

Stylistically, Two Tongues shuffles around between standard, dual-vocal pop-punk (“Wowee Zowee” and “Come On”) and awful, 70s-style guitar-rock (“Don’t You Want to Come Home” and “Back Against the Wall”). While the glory days of messenger bags and shaggy bangs are long gone, the assumed credibility of this release disappears when it’s played in full. Bemis can’t seem to stray from his faux-minimalist, boy-with-guitar persona, and Conley is simply too weak in vocal chords or testosterone to contribute anything of substance.

Fans of Saves the Day and Say Anything will be sorely disappointed by this half-assed project. Apparently money does buy happiness, and I wish these guys would have gotten dumped (or, at their age, divorced), which might have provided adequate subject material to make this album memorable.

—David Pike

V

UTSC could get new sports centre

U of T’s Scarborough campus could host a $170-million sports facility, should Toronto win the bid for the 2015 Pan-American Games. The arena, slated for the strip along Military Trail currently used for parking lots, would be the core facility of the games. Amenities include two 50-metre competition pools, 10-metre diving tanks, a multi-sport field house, a gymnastic facility, and a training centre.

The building would cost UTSC $37.5 million. The federal and provincial governments would cover 56 per cent of the costs, with the school and the city of Toronto splitting the remainder. Franco Vaccarino, principal of UTSC, said the opportunity was “too good to ignore,” though the current financial situation was considered. “We are coming out of the gates on this one. A lot of the timing and details still need to be worked out.”

UTSC students will have automatic membership to the facility after the games.

Currently, UTSC students only have access to the facility at the Scarborough campus, and have to pay additional fees to use the downtown athletic centre. “The current facility is extremely sub-standard, and regardless of the Pan-American games there is a serious need for a facility,” said Vaccarino. After UTSC’s enrolment ballooned with the double cohort in 2003, he added, “the size of the current facilities are not aligned with the size of the student population […] We would likely be going forward with a similar number in terms of our particular needs, regardless of the games.”

The facility will likely require a student levy, and Vaccarino said the admin will coordinate with the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union and students. SCSU president Zuhair Syed said there will be a fixed levy for infrastructure and start-up costs. After completion, a user-based fee will be applied, likely through a rise in compulsory fees.

“[The student union] can’t officially endorse the project until they have solid numbers on what it will cost the students,” said Syed, though he did call UTSC’s gym “overpacked and way too small.” He cited a number of other shortages, such as inadequate study space, parking, and clubs funding. “We don’t hear too much about an athletics facility,” said Syed. “There’s a million and one issues. It’s not the number one priority right now.”

At St. George, students pay $18 a year to operate the new Varsity Centre bubble on Bloor Street. The university initially produced funds to construct the facility after students refused to pay for it. Last year, after the Faculty of Physical Education announced that the facility would only be available for student use if the students paid a levy for its upkeep, undergrads voted in favour of the levy in a hotly contested referendum.

The faculty is looking at a similar funding model for the planned Centre for High Performance Sport across the street from the Varsity Centre. Bruce Kidd, the Phys Ed dean, has said students will be expected to fund its operations, pending approval from the Council on Student Services.

The Pan Am Games bid decision is expected in October. Should Toronto win, the facilities at UTSC are to be completed for 2014.

Taking graffiti off the streets

In the heart of Toronto’s uber-hip Bloorcourt Village, the Funktion Gallery oozes with personality: on one wall, Ronald McDonald, Grimace, and the Hamburglar drive a miniature graffiti-painted moving van carrying X-rated cargo. To the left hangs a Warhol-style portrait of Dirty Harry. Straight ahead are racks of T-shirts from Funktion’s successful clothing line. And scattered around the space are various art pieces of all sizes that have been heavily influenced by Toronto’s vibrant graffiti subculture. This is no ordinary gallery.

Stay a few minutes and you will undoubtedly run into José-Gabriel, 23, the gallery’s founder. A well-spoken, passionate leader, José-Gabriel did not enter the gallery scene under typical circumstances.

He credits Funktion’s genesis to a transformative event in 2002 when, on one of his first nights out with a spray can, he was arrested by an undercover police officer. Upon his arrest, the then 16-year-old José was handed over to two other officers who proceeded to beat him severely, leaving his face mangled and his heart disillusioned: “[Having once looked up to them], I was living in fear of the police in my neighbourhood. I became a scapegoat for a lot of things. I didn’t have trust in anybody.”

After his discharge, the police security videos depicting José-Gabriel covered in blood mysteriously vanished. He opted not to press charges. While his assailants were never brought to justice, they did unwittingly propel José-Gabriel towards his calling.

“Everything changed right then. I went from thinking, ‘I’m never going to do [graffiti art] again,’ to where I am today. If I hadn’t gotten the shit kicked out of me I probably would have stopped, but I think everything happens for a reason. I just decided this is what I’m going to do.”

Seven years later, the scars have healed, and José-Gabriel (presumed by many to be the graffiti artist Kismet) is motivated. With the help of several local artists including Jamie Roy, Will Gaydos, Brendan Go, Adrian Vit, Nalin Sharma, and TFUK, José-Gabriel has built an innovative social movement that resists categorization. Combining street art, apparel, and live music, the movement has a headquarters at the Funktion Gallery. In addition to public visits, the gallery hosts parties, exhibitions, graffiti events, and live performances for up-and-coming local artists.

The people at the Funktion Gallery are building a community that is now being embraced by a larger neighbourhood hit hard by a deepening recession.

José-Gabriel says his neighbours in the Bloor and Lansdowne area have been friendly and receptive to his vision, frequenting the gallery since its December opening. He believes the Funktion crew are “bringing a totally new vibe to the neighbourhood. [Residents] like seeing the younger crowd coming through and supporting all the businesses here, because a lot of people are going under right now.”

While detractors have argued that putting street art in a gallery betrays the essence of the medium, getting this movement away from the streets is deliberate and ethically motivated.

“[The gallery] is a way for us to give back after all the damage we’ve committed and all the bad things we’ve done as youth. We destroyed a lot of the city when we were younger. As you grow older, you realize if someone was to scratch my windows, I’d be really pissed off. You gain a certain amount of respect for what you’re painting on, and I try to get that through to everybody who comes through the door. A lot of kids come through here, and I know who they are—they’re serious vandals. But I tell them to paint on something that has been abandoned.”

Ultimately, these principles are critical to José-Gabriel’s conception of the Funktion Gallery’s larger goals within the community. “You’ve got to build a moral system for people,” he argues, “or else there’s no structure, there’s no control. Even though that’s the whole point of graffiti—the lack of control—there has to be a certain amount of respect for the people around you.”

The Funktion Gallery is located at 1244 Bloor Street W. Their next event, “A Mysterious Date w/ Answer” runs February 12-21. Tues. to Fri., 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sat. & Sun, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.