The Year of Public Art in Toronto and the role of the new home industry Image

The Year of Public Art in Toronto and the role of the new home industry

By Sam Reiss on Nov 20, 2019

At the beginning of this week, Mayor John Tory declared 2021 as the Year of Public Art in Toronto. So, what exactly does that mean and can the new home industry play a role? 

Starting now and leading up to and throughout 2021, the City of Toronto will be celebrating its collection of public art and creating new opportunities for artists and arts organizations across the city. There will be support for artists in the form of grants, strategic partnerships, and the City will also commission artists for various projects. 

"Under my leadership we have seen the City’s arts and culture sector strengthened and furthered our reputation as a global creative capital,” said Tory in a release. “This has been made possible by our talented artists and our incredible collection of public art that adorns and animates our city.” 

“The call for the Year of Public Art for 2021 will better connect the public to the art, create more opportunities for the public to engage with art and, at the same time, provide greater opportunities for artists to use Toronto as their canvas to create challenging, ground-breaking works of public art,” he added. “Our commitment to artists and the entire arts sector, can help us continue to make Toronto the vibrant and beautiful city that it is.”

What you may not realize is that new development projects in Toronto must alot a certain percentage of the project cost to go towards the creation of public art. This results in stunning lobby installations, construction hoarding murals, and other types of outdoor pieces. 

"This is a vision for public art that puts artists and communities at the heart of it, supports artistic creativity and experimentation and affirms the City's position as a global cultural capital,” said Councillor Gary Crawford (Ward 20 Scarborough Southwest), Co-Chair of the Mayor's External Advisory Committee for the Year of Public Art. “It is a vision that prioritizes the public experience of public art, mobilizing communities to engage with it to animate and active all corners of Toronto."

I agree with Crawford. Art brings communities together — rather — it is a point of connection. In a condo lobby or courtyard, art wishes you a good day and then welcomes you home. It’s a talking point. People photograph it. People have opinions about it (not always good). Artists are the true trendsetters that establish Toronto neighbourhoods, and I hope the Year of Public Art helps more people recognize this.

I think back to Yorkville in its bohemian days (1960s), where Neil Young and Margaret Atwood would hang out. Would it be the Yorkville we know today if it wasn’t a haven for artists first? Just look at Queen West or the Junction Triangle. The area around Dupont and Lansdowne didn’t have much going for it a decade ago, but once the artists, small design studios, galleries and coffee shops moved in, then more businesses started moving to the area. Now there’s a ton of development in the pipeline in that neighbourhood. 

"Art can be the catalyst to radically transform space and create social change because it can rupture places and spark difficult dialogues and knowledge for generations to come; in public space, in galleries and on the street,” said Dr. Julie Nagam, Nuit Blanche Artistic Director. “I envision the future with public art that is rooted in collaboration and connections to people, cultures and relationships and Indigenous stories to place."

With all of this in mind, I’m hoping the new home industry can step up and do a little bit extra with upcoming projects, at least over the next couple years. Hire a local artist to do your project branding. Commission a hoarding mural. Buy a collection of art to fill the amenity spaces. Dedicate a space for art installations in the lobby and outdoor common areas. 

There are so many ways to form connections and make connections. Builders have the power to support these types of connections, and I truly believe that it is the industry’s responsibility to cultivate stronger, tight-knit communities not only through building quality homes, but through facilitating artistic expression. 

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