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Murals on bridges, poems on library walls, exhibits at the mall: 2021 will be the Year of Public Art in Toronto – Toronto Star



One of the brightest spots in this bleakest of years has been the proliferation of public art in Toronto, from vast murals on walls, streets and rooftops across the city to temporary projection artwork to head-turning new sculptural commissions. Even road furniture, like concrete bike lane barriers and grey metal traffic signal boxes, have been transformed by teams of artists hired by the city.

But that was just a warm-up act.

Next year, 2021, is Toronto’s official Year of Public Art, a four-season celebration intended to beautify the city, engage all 25 wards with artistic activations, and kick off a decade-long transformation that will give public art and artists the recognition they deserve for their role in making the place we call home more livable, enticing and vibrant.

Imagine: mural-covered bridges. Poetry on the walls of local libraries. Messages of hope broadcast from rooftops. Shopping malls from Scarborough to Etobicoke reimagined as beacons of culture for the community, with art on the walls, films in the parking lots, live performances, talks and free events throughout the year.

It’s all happening in 2021. Not even a pandemic will stand in its way.

“We’re going to make it happen no matter what,” says Joe Sellors, the city’s project lead for ArtworxTO, the official title for the yearlong event.

“Being locked down … has definitely thrown a bit of a wrench in planning,” he adds with a hint of irritation. “We can’t even get the mayor in front of a podium to do a press conference.”

There’s urgency in Sellors’ voice because some of the work is time-sensitive — for instance, a Toronto Archives spotlight on Black female artists in time for Black History Month in February. Also, importantly, “the culture sector really needs it. And I think to delay would hurt it even more.”

So the kickoff date is now delayed until sometime in late January. A number of showpieces are being held over until spring. And the team is planning for virtual versions of every event and artwork, so those who are unable to attend in person can enjoy it safely from home.

But the show is determined to go on. A reboot of the fall’s BigArtTO program of monumental video projections is still planned for January. Soon you may start seeing oversized QR codes that you scan with your phone in ornate picture frames, for an initiative called “Project Reframed.”

Even now, you might spot words of poetry popping up in public places, a project called “Poems for Your Path.”

Originally, says Kate Nankervis, a dancer and co-curator of the Poems program, “I proposed a kind of pop-up dance situation that would happen in a parking lot, along a path.

“But then due to (COVID-19) restrictions, none of that could take place. And so the team invited me to think about my proposal a little bit differently.”

Since public dancing in January was out of the question, Nankervis invited several of her collaborators to imagine “the poem that would come out of their dancing.”

The result is a series of photographs of dancers in midperformance alongside the poem that each one produced.

“It’s really like a message of hope and resilience,” Nankervis says.

When the Year of Public Art goes live in January, so too will its website,, a robust home for all public art installations and events, including established ones like the Toronto Outdoor Art Fair. It will have an interactive map encompassing thousands of works from the city’s various initiatives, including the StreetARToronto program, the Public Art & Monuments Collection, the Percent for Public Art program and the BIA Streetscape Improvement Program. Currently these all compete for attention on multiple websites and sub-pages.

“It’s also time based. So when the Toronto Biennial of Art pops up for the last part of the year, then that will also be populated on the map,” says Sellors.

“So no matter where you are, when you’re visiting the website and the map, you’ll know what’s going on a particular day or week.”

While art programs are planned across the city, many of the ArtworxTO activities and installations will be focused at four regional hubs: Cloverdale Mall in the west, Downsview Park to the north, Scarborough Town Centre in the east and Union Station downtown. There will also be three pop-up hubs, at Collision Gallery in Commerce Court and two other malls: Bayview Village and Yorkdale.

“It really feels like we’re opening seven galleries in one year,” says Nankervis, who is working with the city as a liaison for the curators at these hubs.

If you love art, expect to spend a lot of time at the mall in 2021.

The intention, in part, is to bring art to the people, in places that are already community hubs. Outside the downtown core, too many parts of the city are “art deserts,” Sellors says, and ArtworxTO aims to address that — in addition to giving gallery space (or mall space) to emerging artists, with a BIPOC focus.



“I hope to support artists from a wide range of backgrounds, who haven’t had access to these platforms and who can really benefit from this kind of support and visibility,” affirms Claudia Arana, curator of the Cloverdale hub.

At the other end of the city, “the Scarborough hub will be an opportunity to reflect the rich diversity and history of Scarborough, while at the same time highlighting the fact that this part of Toronto, which is so often overlooked and negatively reported on, has actually significantly contributed to Toronto arts and culture,” says Paulina O’Kieffe, curating the Scarborough hub along with her partners in the SpokenSoulTO Collective, Dwayne Morgan and Randell Adjei.

The hub’s signature event is “Let Your Backbone Slide,” a multimedia installation celebrating the career of Maestro Fresh Wes and his seminal hit single, which kick-started Canadian hip hop in the 1980s.

“Scarborough is the backbone of Canadian hip hop as the single was the bestselling hip-hop single for 20 years, until it was dethroned by another Scarborough artist, Kardinal Offishall,” O’Kieffe points out.

The needle drops on that event in October, timed to Nuit Blanche. By then, one hopes, public gatherings will be a thing again.

Must-See Exhibits in 2021

The Star asked the curators of the four cultural hubs of ArtworxTO, Toronto’s Year of Public Art, to name one or two exhibits or events in 2021 that you won’t want to miss. Here are their answers.

North hub: Downsview Park

“One of the featured projects you will have to check out is a vibrant large-scale mural production (over 300 feet long) that will bring together incredible BIPOC artists.” — Danilo Deluxo McCallum

South hub: Union Station

“Part of my project during the summer will be about the connection between land and history. It’ll include several gardens throughout downtown made by different artists. These gardens will be a great opportunity for community collaboration and communal learning.” — Maya Wilson-Sanchez

West hub: Cloverdale Common

“‘Bloody Boats 2.0,” an interactive and community-engaged experiential installation by Akshata Naik (India), ‘Variations on Broken Lines,’ a multimedia project by Nava Waxman, and ‘Souls on Hold,’ an immersive new media installation by Mirna Chacin.” — Claudia Arana

East hub: Scarborough Town Centre

“Our signature event is ‘Let Your Backbone Slide,’ a multimedia arts installation that celebrates the career of Scarborough artist Maestro Fresh Wes. Other key exhibits will be the SpokenSoul East Festival, which will be a showcase of soul music and spoken word poetry taking place outside in Albert Campbell Square, and the Carnival Arts exhibit, which will highlight the massive role that Scarborough plays in getting everything ready for Toronto’s Carnival parade downtown.” — Paulina O’Kieffe, Dwayne Morgan, Randell Adjei

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Visit the city's tiniest art gallery: Five things to do in Saskatoon this weekend – Saskatoon StarPhoenix



In an effort to help Saskatoon residents share art with one another, Suzy Schwanke has created the Free Little Art Gallery YXE outside her home at 332 Hilliard St. E.

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Whether you’re interested in art, a virtual party, some outdoor activities or cleaning up around the house, there’s a little bit of something for everyone this weekend in Saskatoon.

1. Visit the Free Little Art Gallery

In an effort to help Saskatoon residents share art with one another, Suzy Schwanke has created the Free Little Art Gallery YXE outside her home at 332 Hilliard St. E. Designed in the style of community libraries and kitchen boxes, visitors to the gallery can take a piece of art, leave a piece of art, or do both. You can check out some of the artwork on Instagram @Freelittleartgalleryyxe.

Art teacher Suzy Schwanke is hoping to bring “a little joy to the community” by installing a tiny art gallery on her front lawn in Saskatoon’s Queen Elizabeth neighbourhood.
Art teacher Suzy Schwanke is hoping to bring “a little joy to the community” by installing a tiny art gallery on her front lawn in Saskatoon’s Queen Elizabeth neighbourhood. Photo by Matt Smith /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

2. Hit up The Bassment’s virtual party

Featuring the music and talents of eight Saskatoon bands, The Bassment presents InTune 2021 — a free online party playing from 2 to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The shows will be streamed live through the Bassment’s Facebook and YouTube pages.

3. Check out local performers

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Watch as some of Saskatoon’s performing artists share their work in Episode 1 of Persephone Theatre’s Open Stage, which was published earlier this month. The episode is available to watch whenever you want at and features Peace Akintade, Kathie Cram, Amanda Trapp, Sketchy Bandits, Carla Orosz and Ellen Froese.

4. Have some family fun

The Fuddruckers Family Fun Centre (2910 8th St. E) is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Sunday, weather permitting. Families can practice their skills on the 18-hole Putt N’ Bounce miniature golf course, reach new heights on The Rock climbing wall or take a swing at the Grand Slam batting cages. More information is available at or by calling 306-477-0808.

5. Drop off your hazardous waste

The City of Saskatoon is holding its first Hazardous Household Waste Drop Off of the year on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Civic Operations Centre (57 Valley Rd.). The drop off is open to Saskatoon residents from residential properties only. Products eligible for drop off include aerosols, automotive fluids, batteries, cleaners, light bulbs, yard chemicals and more. Learn more at

  1. Art teacher Suzy Schwanke is hoping to bring

    Little art gallery brings colour, connection to Queen Elizabeth neighbourhood

  2. Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon

    Persephone Theatre brings in community co-leads for new Artists’ Working Group

The news seems to be flying at us faster all the time. From COVID-19 updates to politics and crime and everything in between, it can be hard to keep up. With that in mind, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix has created an Afternoon Headlines newsletter that can be delivered daily to your inbox to help make sure you are up to date with the most vital news of the day. Click here to subscribe.

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YK ARCC celebrates 10 years by pushing for NWT art gallery – Cabin Radio



Its trailer doubles as one of the NWT’s only art galleries. Now, the Yellowknife Artist-Run Community Centre is turning 10 years old.

The group, YK ARCC for short, formed in 2011 in a downtown Yellowknife church scheduled for demolition. “There was always something going on,” recalled Métis artist Rosalind Mercredi, owner of the city’s Down to Earth Gallery, who was YK ARCC’s first president.

“I think it was so good to be able to have a space where people wanted to work on stuff and, if they had bigger projects they wanted to do, there was a space to do it. It was pretty vibrant times, I would say, for art.”


Though the organization stayed in the church for less than a year, it has brought art and shows to Yellowknife since. Temporary homes have included an apartment above a Vietnamese restaurant and empty spaces in the Centre Square Mall.

Casey Koyczan, a Tłı̨chǫ artist from Yellowknife pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Manitoba, held some of his first shows with YK ARCC’s help.

“It really helped to be able to show work within an environment that was conducive to more of a fine arts aesthetic as opposed to … a coffee shop, or a pub, or something like that,” said Koyczan, who was on YK ARCC’s board.

“YK ARCC felt like it was getting to more of a formal-exhibit kind of feel.”

‘We need a territorial gallery’

The group made headlines shortly after opening a mobile art gallery in a trailer. At the beginning of the pandemic, the team took art to residents by accepting reservations through Facebook then driving the gallery to make house calls in different neighbourhoods.


“Because it’s so small, we might be the only gallery in Canada that didn’t have to close,” said longtime board member Sarah Swan. “It has a limited capacity. We knew we could still operate it safely.”

YK ARCC’s first home is pictured in 2011. Photo: Submitted
Casey Koyczan stands in front of a painting at a YK ARCC show in 2014. Photo: Submitted

Yet the trailer’s success simultaneously illuminated what YK ARCC’s members believe is a glaring deficiency in the NWT: the absence of a territorial gallery.

The cost of rent makes it difficult for the non-profit to hold on to one space for any length of time. Many of the spaces that are available in Yellowknife don’t work well for art shows.

“We need a territorial gallery,” former board member Dan Korver said.

That doesn’t mean a commercial gallery geared toward profit, he clarified. Instead, Korver wants a space where artists can show their work and engage with an audience “for art’s sake.”

The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre is the only large-scale, non-commercial, gallery fitting that bill in the NWT. It hosts two fine art exhibits a year.

“It’s just simply not enough,” said Swan. “There are so many more artists and so much more work out there to show, so many more ideas.”

“We created the mobile gallery in the first place to feel that exhibition gap, but also, we created it to be a piece of agitation in itself. That’s why we called it the Art Gallery of the Northwest Territories.

“It’s really pathetic that our territorial gallery is a trailer. We all joke that if there ever is a real gallery of the Northwest Territories that’s not in a trailer, we’ll happily give the name back.”

YK ARCC debuted its mobile gallery in the summer of 2019. Pictured are board member Brian McCutcheon and artist Terry Pamplin. Photo: Submitted
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Art by Shelley Vanderbyl is displayed in Yellowknife’s mobile gallery in May 2020. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
A YK ARCC show in 2018, called Social Fabric, was held inside a former bank in the Centre Square Mall. Thirty-two artists were featured and 800 people attended. Photo: Submitted

Koyczan described obstacles in establishing his career that stemmed directly from the lack of a territorial art gallery.

“Back when I was showing at YK ARCC, it wasn’t recognized by the Canada Arts Council,” he said. “Therefore, when you go to apply for grants and funding … and you provide your CV saying that you showed work at YK ARCC, they check their records and say the show basically didn’t exist because they don’t recognize it as a legitimate gallery.

“I’ve had to work really hard on exporting myself and making artwork that is impactful so that, regardless of where I was located, it would be recognized by people in the south, or around North America, or internationally.

“The NWT needs a contemporary gallery. It’s just holding us back, not having that space.”

‘No GNWT mandate’ for a gallery

In a written statement to Cabin Radio, the territorial Department of Education, Culture, and Employment said it has no plan to create a territorial gallery.

The department said it “does not have a mandate to create physical infrastructure for the arts.”

“However,” the response continued, “the GNWT would be happy to work with regional organizations to see how the GNWT can support their plans.”

Korver believes government involvement in creating an artist-run centre or non-commercial gallery should be limited to provision of funding, so any gallery can remain community-driven and independent.

“We need that physical space, but how do you run it?” he wondered. “Is it better to just provide a grassroots organization – or organizations, maybe there shouldn’t just be one – with stable funding so they can provide those spaces and run those spaces?”

More spaces that can host art are on the way.

Makerspace YK moved into the old After 8 pub this January and is planning workshops and exhibits. The City of Yellowknife expects to open a visitor centre in the Centre Square Mall that would include art displays.

Meanwhile, the territorial government is set to release its updated NWT Arts Strategy this June. The previous territorial arts strategy, released in 2004, had identified a need for more arts spaces.

As a gallery owner, Mercredi said she is curious to see how the strategy is implemented.

YK ARCC staged an outdoor installation in 2017. Photo: Submitted
Rosalind Mercredi, first president of YK ARCC, at the mobile gallery. Photo: Submitted

“You can make a strategy but if the plan doesn’t have an implementation idea behind it, then really just sits,” she said. “How do you implement it when most of the arts organizations don’t have enough infrastructure or people to put those things together?”

Swan said YK ARCC will continue to run its mobile gallery while celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Members have applied for funding to run a series of “emerging curator workshops.”

“Art is our passion,” Swan said. “I think there’s just this drive to share.

“Because we know how good art can be, or how amazing and fully developed it can be, we want to fight for that. We want to try to grow the art community in Yellowknife.”


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