Forging a Path… and a Community

So how do The Crazy Dames fit into all this?

As I mentioned in the previous post, Jennie Suddick and Sara Udow specialize in creating community spaces, and that is what’s needed in this neighbourhood. If you look at the map of the West End of Toronto, you’ll see that the area is pretty subdivided, not only geographically, but by socio-economic factors. Toss the looming shadow of gentrification into the mix and it’s easy to understand how building a cohesive community can be tricky.

And what better way to bring people together than through art and nature?

So, on a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon, a group of about 30 art lovers, nature enthusiasts, runners, cyclists, and concerned neighbours got together to start working things out. The first thing we did was take a short walk along the trail to the first installation site at the back of 72 Perth Avenue. It was a very short trip, but it did give the participants an idea of some of the possibilities and challenges facing us in our quest to create meaningful pieces of art along the railpath. From there we returned to our community space to talk about what we saw, how we could overcome roadblocks, and to try to build an understanding of the community.

West Toronto Railpath, Project Sites (not to scale)

West Toronto Railpath, Project Sites (not to scale) Copyright 2017, Public Art of Toronto. All rights reserved.

From this discussion, there are two questions that need answering. The first is logistical. How do we access these sites physically without disturbing or damaging the vegetation and landscaping? Muralists often use cranes and scaffolding as to get up high to paint and the last thing we want is for the shrubbery and plants to be damaged, especially those that are under threat from other factors. This lead to a conversation about how much landscaping do we really want along the railpath? One participant felt that we didn’t want it to become over tended because then the path would feel more like a garden than a natural part of the city. On the flip side, it was pointed out that the unmaintained feel of the path might be contributing to the litter problem in the area and that if people felt it was more formalized and actively cared for they would be less likely to leave trash in their wake.

West Toronto Railpath Graffiti, Artist Unknown - 2009 (?)

West Toronto Railpath Graffiti, 2009 (?)
LOCATED: 72 Perth Avenue
ARTIST: Unknown
Copyright 2017, Public Art of Toronto. All rights reserved.

The second question was a little more philosophical. What do we do with the street art and tags that already exist at the installation sites? As you can see from the above photo, the graffiti at the first installation site is quite extensive and well done. From what I heard at the meeting, the same can be said for the other sites. So, what’s to be done? Do we look for ways to preserve the work in whole or in part? Do we request that the new artists incorporate existing works into their new pieces? Do we recognize the transient nature of street art and cover the pre-existing work and give the artists a blank canvas to work with? I don’t believe we came to a consensus on Saturday, but that is an important question that will need to be resolved as we move forward with the planning process.

The final exercise of the day was to come up with themes for the artists to use in the creation of these new murals. All the usual subjects came to the fore: Unity, History, Industry, Environment, Community.  What struck me from the exercise was what people chose to represent each of these individual themes. For some it was food, for other’s it was factories, and even others who saw the contributions of the indigenous community. These highly differing views lead to the suggestion that maybe we should incorporate a bit of freedom into the process by having an Art for Art as a theme allowing the contributing artists to create something meaningful to them that will hopefully connect with the greater community.

West Toronto Railpath Graffiti, Artist Unknown - 2009 (?)

West Toronto Railpath Graffiti, 2009 (?)
LOCATED: 72 Perth Avenue
ARTIST: Unknown
Copyright 2017, Public Art of Toronto. All rights reserved.

All in all, it was a fun and interesting way to spend an afternoon. The process seemed meaningful and collaborative. I really recommend people get involved, because once we finish this process; it’s time to start thinking about installations for Phase Two of the West Toronto Railpath which was announced in August of 2016. The extension will run south to King Street and then east towards Strachan Road, increasing its length from two to six kilometers and opening the route up to become a fully fledged bicycling commuter artery into Liberty Village. And that means a lot more opportunities for some fabulous public art.

If you’re interested in participating in the Create Your Path process, tell The Crazy Dames what you think by taking part in the online survey and let your voice be heard.

The next in-person meeting takes place on June 5th, from 6:30 – 8:00 pm at the Henderson Brewing Company located at 128A Sterling Rd.

Hope to see you there.

NOTE: I will be taking the rest of the week off to prepare for Easter. Enjoy the holiday! We will be back on Thursday the 20th of April.

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