‘This is going to change the look of the city’: Mayor John Tory on Toronto’s years of public art and his plan to prevent artists from leaving the camp

As he seeks to breathe new life into Toronto’s post-pandemic recovery, Mayor John Tory makes it an artistic and cultural civilian infrastructure essential to creating a more vibrant city.

As part of this vision, in late September, Tory launched ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art. The initiative, which runs into the fall of 2022, will include more than 350 new works and provide funding to just under 100 organizations across the GTA. In addition, ArtworxTO is launching a 10-year public art strategy that is committed to bringing “creativity and community everywhere.”

Here, Tory talks to Star about the importance of culture in rebuilding a world-class city, and how he plans to ensure that gentrification and development do not price Toronto’s artistic community.

The launch of ArtworxTO was delayed from your original launch goal in 2020, when Toronto addressed the implications of the pandemic. Why was it important for you to move forward with this initiative now?

It is interesting because I committed to do this when I was re-elected and the pandemic has only increased its significance. This is true for a few reasons: First, I believe that the feeling of joy – the look and feel of the city being enlivened by artistic creations of all kinds – became even more important after a desolate period of walking around center and it was gloomy, I mean it was a wasteland. The second reason, which was valid before, but now became 100 times more valid, was that it also allows some of our artists to tell their stories. And in addition to the benefits to us of having these stories told and these works displayed, this program will retain the services of 1,500 artists during this year. It is not insignificant in the case of a group that has been hit very hard. I do not minimize the problems other people have had, but artists had it awful. Now there is a need to bring the city back to life and there is nothing like art and culture to do that.

In your opinion, what role can public art play in an economic and social recovery for the city?

We have just been through a period that is unprecedented – where we were told to stay apart, we could not see our relatives, let alone our friends. One of the things about visual art, especially public visual art, is that it brings people together. They will go to one of these hubs that we have established, like Scarborough Town Center, and see magnificent photography, or they will go and see the 70 foot high work (“Untitled” by Jorian Charlton) on Bay Street, and they will be able to stand there together even though they cannot speak to each other in the same language and be able to appreciate it.

Overall, I think (ArtworxTO) is going to change the look and feel of the city. And not just for tourists. The other day I drove past (Condo Man) on St. Clair, and I was immediately amused to see it again. I was sitting in the car and I said to my wife, ‘You know I love that piece’ because I think it’s a little crooked to stand like it does in front of a couple of new condominiums. And there are people who do not like it. They (also) did not like that cow up in Markham. I like the cow. It was a topic of great debate and I do not like anything better. Something that makes people have different opinions; it is well! And then there is history, which belongs to art. And there is work for the artists. And (the exposure): (Charlton) now has its name in two-foot-tall letters on the front of a building on Bay Street. This could be the breakthrough for her to become as famous as Drake. Who knows? But the bottom line is that she has been given a chance where she otherwise would never have had a chance to show her work in such a public way.

Jorian Charlton's mural 'Untitled' in a 70-foot-tall exhibition on Bay Street.

You said earlier that art and culture are crucial to bringing the city back to life, but even before the pandemic, there was criticism that gentrification displaced Toronto’s artistic community. What are you doing to ensure that Toronto can not only attract, but retain its artistic class?

You may not necessarily do everything for everyone, but we have taken some steps. For example, we took venues that were in the same position as being pushed out of escalating property values ​​and remodeling, and we gave them some tax relief. And we said we would look at ways we could help preserve these venues.

The biggest barrier for artists in the city is the cost of being here. I think we’ll increasingly have to look – (as) we have done to a limited extent through investments like Artscape – on housing for artists in the city, so that it becomes a niche of affordable housing. Right now, most of affordable housing is what I call workforce housing as they are for people working in very stable jobs. Artists are different because they do not get a regular paycheck every week. If you solved the problem of affordable housing, you would have less problems with the affordable work area.

Would you say that it is a priority topic for you?

I am very aware of the problem. I do not want people who have a lower or less stable income to be chased out of the city. Period. We need them to live in the city. And we need the creativity of the artists. If people see a city that has a healthy arts and culture scene – they are well supported and they have a chance to showcase their work – it will attract investment. That’s why I’m such a fan of art. Art is an important industry in itself, but it is also a great catalyst for attracting smart people. It is a huge advantage for us to have an art and culture scene, including public art, that is as vibrant and visible as it is.

That said, what changes do you hope to see in 10 years?

I want some even more iconic pieces in town. My real dream is to have a very large iconic sculpture or work of art comparable to The Bean (“Cloud Gate”) in Chicago. Something that is iconic that people will go to see from all over the city, the region and the whole world. Secondly, I would like to see more public art spread across the city, because let’s be honest, the concentration of public art has been at the center, both because it is there, people are concentrated during the day, and also because it is there. , there has been a lot of development. place and we have mandated developers to include it. And third, I would like to see more engagement for the hundreds of artists who live and work in the city.

Overall, I see this as a general continued commitment, including continued investment in this area from the city and the other governments.

Jonathan Dekel is a freelance contributor based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @jondekel

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