JapanTown adds diversity (and memory) to London’s mural landscape

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Many cities have a Chinatown, a Koreatown, a Little Italy or Little India. London has JapanTown, not a district but the latest addition to the city’s growing mural art landscape.

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Many cities have a Chinatown, a Koreatown, a Little Italy or Little India.

London has JapanTown, not a district but the latest addition to the city’s growing mural art landscape.

The JapanTown project mural is the fourth at Adelaide Street and Hamilton Road, at Stew Kraft’s Service Centre, which added a new mural last month in its rear yard.

That effort is the latest in the Wet Paint Initiative, a mural campaign that aims to bring a vibrant atmosphere to areas of Hamilton Road and Old East Village. During the past two years, the campaign has put up 26 murals across east London on behalf of the Risky Play Collective, a London-based urban art advocacy group.

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Ken Galloway, the creative lead of the campaign, says it’s part of the effort to give a platform to and embolden local artists who wish to leave their mark on the community but have faced hurdles in getting funding or permission on public property.

“We’ve had a lot of artists come and complain to us because everybody’s afraid of speaking up against the funding sources except for us … They know that their funding will dry up if they do so, because we are operating outside of the funding streams,” he said. “We are not only a voice for our own advocacy, but we’re the advocacy for so many unseen artists.”

The Wet Paint Initiative was part of the solution, partnering with local businesses to act as their canvases. They also receive support from the Western Fair District and American paint company Sherwin-Williams.

Tim Fukakusa
Tim Fukakusa, of Toronto, works on a mural as part of the JapanTown Project at Hamilton Road and Adelaide Street in London, Ont. The project is part of the Wet Paint Initiative which has produced 26 murals in London, says founder Ken Galloway. On Wednesday, May 29, 2024 Galloway toured the murals with London Mayor Josh Morgan, giving him a quick pitch about the value the murals add to the city. (Mike Hensen/The London Free Press)

The initiative supplements the public art programs in the city, while putting the opportunities and choices involved directly into the hands of local artists. Galloway estimates that, at a value of $10,000 a mural, the project has brought $250,000 of artistic value to the city.

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Now, they’re looking to the city for its support, meeting with Mayor Josh Morgan Wednesday afternoon to tour the JapanTown piece by Toronto artist Tim Fukakusa, the fourth of its kind and the first outside of Toronto.

“The way I said it to the mayor was, we wanted to demonstrate, through bootstrapping or elbow greasing this program, the exact skills that are required to be a professional artists,” Galloway said.

Morgan called the artist “exceptionally talented,” and said it underscores the artistic talent in London, be it in visual arts, music, or film. Not only does a “dynamic” city attract jobs, but artists, he says.

The goal of JapanTown, started 10 years ago in Toronto with Galloway’s help, is to honour diversity and multiculturalism, especially in the wake of the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War.

Galloway, a Japanese-Canadian, aimed to provide a cultural space for those with Japanese heritage, in the absence of a physical one.

Ken Galloway and Josh Morgan
Wet Paint Initiative founder Ken Galloway tour a group of murals with London Mayor Josh Morgan, giving him a quick pitchabout the value the murals add to the city. (Mike Hensen/The London Free Press)

Fukakusa, who also is of Japanese heritage, says his mural is inspired by Japanese art styles such as anime, and his mural will reflect that. While his hands are sometimes bound by commissions, this project allows him to tap into his passion.

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“The whole thing is something that’s very personally important to me . . . Growing up, we didn’t have a Japan town in Toronto,” he said. “Everybody else kind of had their own neighbourhood and we never did, so this is a big part of just bringing awareness about that.”

Mike Kraft, co-owner of the building hosting JapanTown, along with three other murals, has said he’s been amazed by the results and customers regularly compliment the murals and take pictures with them.

“It gives us, the people driving by, something to look at and maybe look at the business,” Kraft said. “When I do walk out (back) . . .  I see people standing there taking pictures. I just smile.”

jmoulton@postmedia.com

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  1. Nick Sweetman paints a mural on a loading dock just west of the Adelaide Street-Hamilton Road intersection in London, part of the public-art efforts by a group calling itself the Risky Play Collective. Photo taken on Wednesday April 17, 2024. (Mike Hensen/The London Free Press)

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