Gruelón: Toronto’s controversy-filled year of public art

A press conference kicks off at City Hall at 5 pm Saturday to herald the opening of the new Scotiabank Theatre as well as over 70 new public art installations throughout the city that…

Gruelón: Toronto's controversy-filled year of public art

A press conference kicks off at City Hall at 5 pm Saturday to herald the opening of the new Scotiabank Theatre as well as over 70 new public art installations throughout the city that were curated by the public art arm of the Toronto Arts Council, Access Art. The program will remain ongoing for the next four years.

Criminal defence lawyer Eric Snyder and Thea Mitra, a principal at PMG Community Design, will speak at the press conference about what they’ve observed so far during Toronto’s first year of public art. Public art installation has been the subject of much public debate. For reasons like public nudity and mental health, some of the artists who were tasked with curating and installing public art installations that are open to the public have decided to “decamp” to other Canadian cities, or simply disappear.

“I can speak for myself and the people I worked with — all of us artists. A lot of us wanted to get back to where we were,” Edmonton-based artist Ken Lum told the media in June of 2018. In June of 2018, Lum left Toronto to live in Berlin, after one of his public art installations at the Harbourfront Gallery became the location of an anti-LGBTQ sign.

While Toronto Mayor John Tory insists his year of public art has been a success and worth keeping, the public at large seems less enamoured with the program. Through polling done on the national news network CP24, Toronto voters overwhelmingly prefer a city focused on the “trendiest” and “fashionable” young talent, to a city of job creators.

Through public opinion polling, CP24 asked Toronto voters, “Do you think more public art is a good idea, or a bad idea, for the city?” Then, CP24 also asked, “Do you think more public art attracts attention to the city or detracts from it?” The results came in: 67% of voters say a focus on young talent leads to an “attractive” city, but 74% also say the young talent translates to “bad” for Toronto.

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