How beautifying our neighbourhood builds community

My philosophy on art is that it is a powerful tool to create culture and to bring people together. For that reason, I have always looked for opportunities to make art as accessible as possible to the community by providing public spaces for canvasses and finding ways to bring and keep artists into this community with smart planning.

Bright, creative elements that draw the eye make us more aware of the public spaces we move through every day.  Luckily, it’s not difficult to inject life into utilitarian infrastructure.  With a little imagination and an abundance of community spirit, we can introduce accessible art and encourage mindfulness of our shared spaces.

Some recent examples of public art projects I’ve supported in my ward include:

  • Speaking at the unveiling event for Humewood Community School’s mural, “Aankosjigen Enaadzing” – which means “bridging cultures” – by artists Chief Lady Bird and Monique Aura.

    “Three Points Where Two Lines Meet” installation at the intersection of Bathurst and Vaughan. The winner of an international design contest, this geometrical sculpture brings colour and interest to a busy corner of St. Paul’s.

  • The School Yard Jams Public Art Project at Cy Townsend Park, a collaboration between ArtStarts, JR Wilcox and Rawlinson public schools. Students created a series of mosaics that are installed next to the playground.
  • Laneway art projects to reduce graffiti, reclaim the space, and share positive messages are found in a number of locations, like Kenwood (now called “Art Lives Here Lane”) and the “Butterflyway” behind Acores Ave, a project between neighbours and the David Suzuki Foundation.
  • First Nations artists, led by Paula Gonzalez-Ossa, created “Man’s Walk” in Wells Hill Park after consultations with the Na-Me-Res and Sagatay community. They identified images, symbols, and histories that were collectively important, but also signified their individual stories.

Back in 1998, together with City staff, Artscape, architect Joe Lobko, Peter MacKendrick, and many others, I helped the St. Clair community reimagine how the rundown streetcar barns at Benson and Wychwood could become a new neighbourhood fixture. The conversation captured the imagination of the neighbourhood, and after nearly a decade of work, we welcomed the transformed Artscape Wychwood Barns into our lives.

The Barns is a space to support the arts and artists; it is a gathering place for local residents; it is a bastion of environmental leadership, food security and social inclusion. The range of topics up for exploration at the Barns is, to me, a perfect example of how we can foster the arts as a community, for all ages, skills, and interests.

I have been a champion of the performing arts as well, including Tarragon Theatre, Theatre Direct and now Solar Stage at the Wychwood Barns. I support the Hillcrest Village BIA in bringing Salsa on St. Clair to the community, and we have recently celebrated the 14th year of the festival. I am proud to be the City Council liaison to Toronto Caribbean Carnival for over 20 years. Sharing and celebrating the diversity of this city is one of the great joys of my job as a councillor.