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Celebrating Indigenous Art and the Year of Public Art

Jan 22, 2021

Ryan RiceRyan Rice joins Waterfront Toronto as its Indigenous Public Art Curator.  

By Chloe Catan

Mayor John Tory proclaimed 2021 Toronto’s Year of Public Art and we look forward to contributing to this special year by advancing work on our permanent and temporary public art programs.  

Waterfront Toronto is pleased to announce that Ryan Rice will join us as Indigenous Public Art Curator to assist with the commission of two significant, site-specific permanent public art opportunities for Indigenous artists in the West Don Lands. Ryan, a Mohawk of Kahnawake, Quebec, was chosen because of his extensive experience in the museum and art gallery sector. He has worked at various centres including the Iroquois Indian Museum, Indigenous Art Centre, Carleton University Art Gallery, the Walter Phillips Art Gallery, and the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In addition to working as an independent curator, he is currently Associate Dean at the Faculty of Liberal Arts at OCAD University.  

One of the public art commissions Ryan will work on will be located at the triangular parcel of land at the junction of King Street, Queen Street and River Street. The other is planned for Anishnawbe Health Toronto, the future Indigenous Hub on Cherry Street. Installation of these commissions is targeted for 2023 and 2024, respectively. 

Ryan was selected following a competition open to First Nations, Métis and Inuit curators with strong ties to the GTA. In his new role, he will actively engage with Indigenous communities, conduct research for the sites and lead the outreach to artists.  

BSAM Canada's posts from their Instagram takeovers.BSAM Canada, the inaugural Waterfront Artists in Residence, launched Earthseeds: Space of the Living through a series of Instagram takeovers last fall and a panel discussion in December that included a program of virtual performances.  

Our first waterfront artists in residence, Black Speculative Arts Movement Canada (BSAM Canada), will continue its16-month residency this year. The group has a series of events and installations planned for Earthseeds: Space of the Living, a public art project inspired by Octavia E. Butler’s Parable series. Their project aims to create community healing spaces for people to consider the seeds they are planting in their lives.  

BSAM Canada will host a Kemetic Yoga series later this winter tailored to the values and objectives of the Earthseeds project. The series will include introspective journaling activities and explanations regarding the meaning of each position. There will be four online sessions offered first, with two additional in-person sessions tentatively scheduled to take place at HTO Park West during the warmer months, pending gathering restrictions related to COVID-19.  

Our artists in residence are also planning a multimedia installation entitled Earthseeds Living Wall. This piece was inspired by Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Talents, in which the settlers of a community called Acorn use a living wall of cacti and thorn bushes to protect themselves from intruders. The concept of the living wall offers a similar intention but focuses on peace of mind rather than physical protection. Tentatively slated for July 2021 at Aitken Place Park, the installation will invite participants to speak or write affirmations expressing hopes and desires to a plant that will be added to the wall. As more plants are added, the wall will bloom into a manifestation of restorative growth, connecting different people from different neighbourhoods.  

Another element of Earthseeds: Space of the Living will be an experimental film. Historically, the water was a gathering space and area to trade goods and knowledge and form connections, especially for Indigenous peoples and those of African descent. BSAM Canada intends to highlight the stories and teachings of the water while acknowledging its history and origins. The film will incorporate creative storytelling through various forms of performance art filmed along the waterfront of Niigaani-gichigami (the Anishinaabe name for Lake Ontario). 

The SOS Swimmers Installation in Harbour Sqare Basin in 2019.SOS Swimmers, shown above, was showcased in Harbour Square Basin in 2019.  

This summer we anticipate installing a temporary floating artwork by Haudenosaunee artist Jay Havens called The Peacemaker. The piece will be featured in the Harbour Square Basin, the same site that that housed SOS Swimmers in 2019.  

This spring, Waterfront Toronto will also be working on the next exhibition for the Port Lands photography series featured on large-scale billboards along Villiers Street for the 2021 Contact Photography Festival. This series traces the five-year development of the Port Lands Protection Project, showing exciting perspectives on what’s happening behind the construction fence.  

In collaboration with Mare Liberum, an interdisciplinary artists’ collective focused on waterways, we are working on a project in partnership with Evergreen that explores the question, “what role can art have in policy-making?” Through a series of activities, including writing, discussions and a set of boat-building workshops by the Lower Don River, Mare Liberum will explore possible answers to this question.  

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to keep up to date with progress on our plans for the Year of Public Art.