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This month on the #EEABlog, we’re chatting all about public art! [Photo above is a recent mural on Danforth Avenue, completed by Elicser Elliott, Nick Sweetman, Sight and Spyone].

Cities gain value through public art – cultural, social, and economic value. You may have heard this fact before, but, assuming you haven’t, and in light of our recent public art contributions with the #DestinationDanforth project, we thought we’d take a moment to chat about the importance of public art.

The Value of Public Art

We here at East End Arts are big proponents of public art, (for a myriad of reasons), and we believe that all large, metropolitan cities, like Toronto, have public art to thank for their popularity and success. Not only does public art enrich our physical environments, bringing streetscapes and buildings to life with vibrant colours and designs, but it also boosts local economies by attracting more visitors to a specific neighbourhood, and helps to raise public awareness about important community issues and topics.

Public art also has enormous value for communities because it is well, public! Everyone has access to public art because it’s directly in the public sphere and not confined to museums or other cultural institutions, (where some people might not feel comfortable or can’t access). And when more people have access to art and see themselves reflected in their public spaces, they have a stronger and clearer sense of connection, allowing them to feel ownership and respect for their neighbourhood. That is, public art can express the values, hopes and dreams of a community, and is ultimately a reflection of how we see the world.

In this past year, public art has taken on an extra special role in our new pandemic reality. While theatres, live music and other live art venues remain closed indefinitely, public art becomes an even more important creative outlet for artists and neighbours alike. During these times it’s important for artistic producers and organizations to create hyper-local opportunities to interact with public art in every neighbourhood of the city!

Toronto is a City of Public Art

Torontonians may or may not already realize it, but their city is currently full of public art. You can visit here to see a map of nearly 400 public artworks across our great city, or go here to see StreetARToronto’s Mural Map. Please note that these maps do not yet include many of the new public art additions that have been added to Toronto in 2020, nor the ones that will be added in 2021, Toronto’s official Year of Public Art!

Picture by @jxsminef on Instagram

P.S. In case you missed it: Mayor John Tory proclaimed 2021 as the Year of Public Art, a year-long celebration of art and community. Working in partnership with artists, arts organizations and communities during the Year of Public Art, the City of Toronto will engage residents and visitors in a city-wide recognition of public art and celebrate the incredible body of work created by local and international artists and supported by arts institutions, developers and the City!

From Duane Linklater’s Gargoyle structures down in the Don Valley (Lower Don Trail), to Bareket Kezwer’s Rainbow ‘Find The Love’ Mural on the side of the old Hollandaise Diner on Danforth, to the adorable Acorn & Squirrel statue at Joel Weeks Park by Mary Anne Barkhouse, (an Indigenous artist, jeweler and sculptor), public art plays a very important role in creating the unique character of our east Toronto streets, parks and public spaces. Matter of fact, public art  is likely a part of most if not all Torontonians’ daily experience – can you think of a piece of local public art that has had an impact on you? What about it is so impactful to you?

Public art built into #DestinationDanforth

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the City of Toronto fast-tracked the #DestinationDanforth project, an unprecedented $4 million investment into Danforth Avenue this past summer to enhance the public realm, create new opportunities for patios, provide dedicated parking, and add the infrastructure we need so that people can walk, ride and roll through the Danforth neighbourhoods.

#DestinationDanforth also included a robust public art program, including creative curb extensions, painted signal boxes and FIVE signature murals. East End Arts oversaw the installment of these murals, (three have been completed to date, two are pending on wall locations), while signal box murals were led by Bell Box Murals Project. So in other words: public art, public art, public art.

Picture of Poser ABM’s ‘Colours of the Danforth Mural’ as part of #DestinationDanforth

#DestinationDanforth murals were asked to respond to two key themes to mark this time in history: Theme One was ‘Gratitude, Resilience, Hope’, and Theme Two was ‘#EastEndLove’. In our first theme, we wanted to recognize the creativity, care and love that local communities have shown one another during this pandemic, i.e. how local businesses and communities have come together to support local and celebrate community pride. In our second theme, we wanted to recognize the past and current injustices against visible minorities, and the recent protests for #BlackLives Matter, while also highlighting the #EastEndLove that is always there to respond, promoting inclusion, collaboration and knowledge sharing to get us to a better tomorrow.

These themes can be seen in the new #DestinationDanforth murals, and now, on the walls of Danforth Avenue that east enders pass by each day, they get a beautiful reminder: we may not be able to gather in large groups, but we are surrounded by beauty, love and hope. Public art is a reflection of its place and time, and our newest #DestinationDanforth murals reflect a specific window into history, capturing recent feelings, moments and political movements for future generations to see. While you are out on your physically-distanced walks in the neighbourhood this fall and winter, we encourage you to stop by these new mural locations to see them and experience the magic of public art for yourself.

Keep Investing in Public Art

We believe the most successful public art allows people to come to it on their own terms. Whether it’s just noticing colour and beauty as you go about your commute and it giving you a momentary boost or smile; or interacting with it digitally for the all important selfie opportunity to post on social media; or processing it by talking about it informally with friends and family members – how you consume public art is not what is important; ensuring that you have the opportunity to consume public art is what’s important.

As the recent #DestinationDanforth project has shown us, and as we look ahead to rebuild and reshape our cities and communities in a post-Covid world, public art should not be overlooked. It is in fact an integral aspect of urban design, contributing to a community’s overall identity, and quality of life for residents and visitors alike.

Can you think about what Toronto might look and feel like without public art? The truth is, it’s nearly impossible to imagine. When cities invest in public art, they invest in public space, and when they invest in public space, they invest in the health of their city and those who live in it. We can’t wait to see what the Year of Public Art in 2021 has in store, and we hope that you’ll get out to the Danforth and other local BIAs in east Toronto to see and support other pieces of public art in your neighbourhood!

For more info on public art in Toronto, check out:

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