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Our Temporary Public Art Program Turns One

Jul 16, 2020

Safety Orange Swimmers (SOS) floating installation in the Harbour Square Park Basin.Safety Orange Swimmers (SOS) at Harbour Square Park Basin (photo by Nicola Betts). 

By Chloe Catan

Temporary public art can be a powerful tool to quickly respond to contemporary social issues and reshape how we view our physical and social environments. That’s why, in 2019, we launched our new Temporary Public Art Program. This program is designed to broaden the arts culture along the waterfront by providing flexible access to physical spaces and partnerships not typically possible through our long-standing permanent art program. Through this new initiative we are engaging a greater diversity of artistic voices to help reimagine and shift our relationship to and understanding of our landscape and shoreline. The broader program also has the potential to spark conversation around a multitude of contemporary issues like equity and inclusivity, the experience of Black, Indigenous and people of colour, climate change and migration. In the next few months, we’ll be celebrating the first anniversary of the program by looking back at how it has helped shaped peoples’ experiences of the waterfront over the last year. 


Inside the Ecolocation installation, part of Flight Mode.Flight Mode at 333 Lakeshore Boulevard East (Photo by Rémi Carreiro) 


Last July, Waterfront Toronto kicked off the program with SOS (Safety Orange Swimmers) by Ann Hirsch and Jeremy Angier — or what came to be known as “those orange guys” floating in the harbour next to the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal. SOS featured 25 bright orange life-size figures clinging to inner tubes in the water. Each figure represents more than one million of the nearly 26 million refugees in the world today, bringing attention to the global refugee crisis. One local resident who had sponsored a family of Syrian refugees, said the piece helped provoke critical discussions around immigration among neighbours in their building. To us, this was the best possible outcome of the project.  


The mural "The Birth of Light" by Jacquie Comrie.The Birth of Light by Jacquie Comrie at 291 Lakeshore Boulevard East (photo by Chet Tilokani) 


Through this program we are able to extend use of our unique urban spaces, particularly those in transition that are typically inaccessible to artists. By providing these spaces, artists can get experience and expand their practice in creating public art pieces. Last September we partnered with South Asian Visual Arts Centre to house the installation Flight Mode in two shipping containers in the car park under the Victory Silos (at the base of Parliament Street). The two pieces showcased in the containers, called Ecolocation and Antiprism, contemplated feelings of solitude and displacement and the role of technology and connectivity in our daily lives. We also partnered with StART on a mural commission under the Gardiner called The Birth of Light by Jacquie Comrie. This vibrant mural, which explores mental health issues through use of colour, has become a beacon in our East Bayfront community. Finally, we were proud sponsors of Winter Stations, helping to bring playful installations like LOOP and Impulse to the waterfront during the typically sleepier dark winter months. 


A healthy arts and culture ecology on our waterfront requires support and partnership with the arts sector in many ways. We were thrilled to provide The Toronto Biennial of Art with their flagship venue during the fall of 2019. The 10-week contemporary art event energized the city’s shoreline by engaging with the most pressing issues of our time. 


Image of "Never Settle," an installation that was part of the Biennial of Art exhibition.Never Settle by New Red Order, from the 2019 Toronto Biennial of Art (photo by Toni Hafkenscheid) 


In 2020-2021 we’ll continue to partner and collaborate with organizations to bring important events to the waterfront. In the next few months, we will be installing a series of photographs by Vid Ingelevics and Ryan Walker that show views from recently demolished buildings and impermanent structures in the Port Lands. The public exhibition for CONTACT Photography Festival, called Framework, will be installed along the median at Villiers Street and the former Essroc Silos on Cherry Street. The Harbour Square Park Basin will be reactivated with a new floating art commission called The Peacemaker by Jay Havens, a multidisciplinary two-spirit artist of Haudenossaunee Mohawk and Scottish Canadian Ancestry. We also recently launched a call for application with the Waterfront BIA on an innovative 16-month Artist Residency that will culminate in a series of community-engaged projects for 2021 — the Year of Public Art. It is our hope that the residency will create new ways of engaging our communities and public spaces after COVID. And finally, we’re working with Evergreen on a project that will focus on the Lower Don River and its many communities, and envisioning plans for the future of the watershed. We’ll be asking “what role can art have in policy-making”? 


Keep an eye out for these works that will activate our waterfront in the coming year.