The Sustainable Thinking and Expression on Public Space (STEPS) Initiative, alongside its partner the St. James Town Community Corner, will be breaking ground to commence Toronto’s tallest public art installation in St. James Town. The installation will be comprised of a mural on the side of a residential building at 200 Wellesley Street, E, a Toronto Community Housing building. Painting will begin on Monday, July 29th at 3pm (rain date, Tuesday).
The mural project has involved collaboration among 40 young people from the St. James Town community, 8 professional artists and the broader community to revitalize the neighbourhood, and highlight themes of diversity, accessibility, local culture, safety and happiness. The building, which possesses a complicated history, is located near a busy intersection, with high multi-modal traffic, including pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. While visible from around the downtown core – a rare occurrence for downtown properties – the building is currently unmemorable and often difficult for residents and visitors to find. The mural seeks to turn the building into a celebrated local landmark. "By adding vivid colours it provides a message of hope and rejuvenation that uplifts the spirit. It has my seal of approval!” says Resident Leader, Miguel Avila.
Youth from St. James Town have participated in STEPS’s Emerging ARTivist Program since the summer of 2012, a workshop and leadership program that uses art to explore urban design and the built environment. The mural comes out of working on larger issues of public space, the environment, accessibility and community engagement. Youth, with input from building residents, worked to develop a design concept and submitted a StreetARToronto grant proposal. The design will work with the motif of a bird soaring up, emblematic of a phoenix rising, to counter the negative stereotypes associated with St. James Town. One 200 Wellesley resident said "I like the idea of the phoenix and rebirth. The building and neighbourhood get a lot of attention...sometimes it’s not good. This is positive initiative. I wish there were more projects like this."
"Our communities benefit from engaged local residents beautifying our public spaces, and this mural project is an excellent opportunity for the youth in St. James Town to give to their neighbourhood while exploring their creativity," said Councillor Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre - Rosedale). "This mural will elevate the neighbourhood in a very exciting way, both bringing sparkle and splendour as well as providing the St. James Town youth a new source of pride."
After developing an initial design with celebrated local artist Sean Martindale, STEPS and the youth performed several community consultations, with residential meetings and 3 publicized consultations and another 2 information sessions at 200 Wellesley St. E. Over 85% of residents who attended these consultations expressed enthusiasm, supporting the idea of a mural to revitalize the neighbourhood designed by youth from the neighbourhood. “I like how it brings the community together,” notes one resident of the proposed project. Another resident added, “Yes [this is] a good idea. Add more colour to [the] neighbourhood.” The design of the lower mural sections have been developed directly from stories and input provided by building residents during these consultations.
Mojan Jianfar, Emerging ARTivist Program Coordinator, shares, “STEPS is invested in the process of community engagement, and has sought to involve youth and the neighbourhood to create designs that reflect the diversity and vibrancy of the St. James Town Community.” Workshop facilitator, JAH, notes, “The real power of working with young people is that you are planting seeds for the future…You never know how that’s going to re-emerge and manifest itself in the future.”
STEPS has been working to bring its Emerging ARTivist Program to various neighbourhoods alongside their local community partners, with Thorncliffe Park as the first community to host in 2011. This project is scheduled to be officially unveiled in September 2013.
Background on STEPS/Emerging ARTivist Program
STEPS is an organization promoting the use of art to connect people with public spaces. STEPS seeks to challenge and change the ways in which public spaces are currently being used, how citizens communicate on environmental issues and the role of the artist in community development. STEPS and its Emerging ARTivist Program in St. James Town are supported by the City of Toronto’s Identify ‘N Impact, StreetARToronto, and Live Arts Programs; the Ontario Arts Council; the Ontario Trillium Foundation; the Laidlaw Foundation and ING DIRECT.
For More Information or Media Inquiries Contact STEPS’ Director Alexis Kane Speer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 647 999 0213.