How to im­prove Toronto’s pub­lic art

Re­port rec­om­mends ways for city to mod­ern­ize poli­cies


It’s been called the hey­day. Toronto now boasts a col­lec­tion of pub­lic art of over 700 works.

Thanks to a tool in­cluded in On­tario’s Plan­ning Act known as Sec­tion 37, which can al­low de­vel­op­ers ex­tra height and den­sity in re­turn for com­mu­nity ben­e­fits, the city’s art hold­ings have grown with its sky­line.

But de­spite the boom, pub­lic art poli­cies haven’t changed much since they were for­mal­ized shortly af­ter amal­ga­ma­tion.

A joint aca­demic study ti­tled “Re­defin­ing Pub­lic Art in Toronto,” by teams at OCAD Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of Toronto, au­thored by Sara Di­a­mond and Daniel Sil­ver, de­mands a new vi­sion.

Iden­ti­fy­ing pro­gram short­falls and propos­ing ways for­ward, the re­port aims to mod­ern­ize pub­lic art pol­icy and prac­tice for a more dy­namic, liv­able city — now and into Toronto’s fu­ture. Here’s some of what’s in­side: Pub­lic art deserts “Look­ing at an in­ven­tory map,” Sil­ver says, “one of the most strik­ing things you’ll see is how con­cen­trated pub­lic art is.” Be­cause of its re­la­tion­ship to de­vel­op­ment — and the rigid na­ture of that pol­icy — pub­lic art mainly grows in the shad­ows of new build­ing projects. That means large swathes of the city’s in­ner suburbs have been ne­glected.

The re­port rec­om­mends pool­ing art funds contributed by de­vel­op­ers and by the city’s own cap­i­tal projects to tar­get un­der­served ar­eas. City funds Toronto has a “Per­cent for Pub­lic Art” pol­icy where a por­tion of funds from ma­jor mu­nic­i­pal projects is re­served for art. But which projects trig­ger that con­tri­bu­tion is de­ter­mined by plan­ning on a project-bypro­ject ba­sis.

The Pan Am Sports Cen­tre in Scar­bor­ough, for ex­am­ple, mer­ited a com­mis­sion by the Que­bec trio BGL. A new over­pass might not. The re­port asks that, as in Calgary and the province of Que­bec, all mu­nic­i­pal builds and ren­o­va­tions set aside a por­tion of fund­ing for pub­lic art. Tem­po­rary art­works “There’s a sense here that if you’re go­ing to in­vest in pub­lic art it has to be per­ma­nent, it has to be mon­u­men­tal and it has to be for­ever,” Di­a­mond says. Toronto’s cur­rent pol­icy frame­work doesn’t al­low semi-per­ma­nent work, though else­where — Mon­treal and Vancouver, for ex­am­ple — it’s be­come com­mon prac­tice.

Tem­po­rary projects bet­ter ac­com­mo­date con­tem­po­rary prac­tices such as video, dig­i­tal art and in­ter­ac­tive me­dia. They also build op­por­tu­ni­ties for emerg­ing tal­ents. Artist in­equities There are many more works of pub­lic art by men than women. There are very few by In­dige­nous artists. “We think ju­ries should be aware of this,” Di­a­mond says. “We need to be con­scious of this in a cu­ra­to­rial way.” Pro­mo­tion “There’s a lot hap­pen­ing and peo­ple just don’t know it,” Sil­ver says. “There’s been ex­cite­ment around the Bent­way project and Wa­ter­front Toronto has drawn at­ten­tion to art in the West Don Lands (Jen­nifer Mar­man and Daniel Borins’ The Water Guardians has be­come some­thing of a sym­bol there).

But the city’s broader col­lec­tion needs to be more vis­i­ble. Di­a­mond and Sil­ver imag­ine ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram­ming around the works and bet­ter dig­i­tal re­sources. As in Chicago, pub­lic art could be­come a city at­trac­tion, Di­a­mond says.


Daniel Young and Chris­tian Giroux’s Nyc­tophilia, in­stalled in Mount Den­nis. A co-au­thor of a study on pub­lic art says such work is “con­cen­trated.”

Jen­nifer Mar­man’s and Daniel Borins’ The Water Guardians has be­come an em­blem of the West Don Lands and Wa­ter­front Toronto’s pub­lic art plan.

Hadley + Maxwell’s Gar­den of Fu­ture Follies lives in the West Don Lands, a newer com­mu­nity defin­ing it­self, in part, by pub­lic art.

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