Once the site of a devastating fire, 200 Wellesley Street East will soon feature the tallest mural in the city—and possibly the world.
Next time you’re walking that stretch of Wellesley between Sherbourne and Parliament, look up. Over the next several weeks, a grass-to-clouds mural will be painted on the south wall of 200 Wellesley Street East, a 30-storey St. James Town highrise that was last in the news when a six-alarm fire forced out over a thousand residents. The mural will depict an enormous phoenix flying toward the sky, representative of the new, more vibrant outlook the project hopes to bring to the building and surrounding area. It’s a symbolic choice rooted in the structure’s very real history.
“The fire was a big thing, and people still remember it here,” says lead artist Sean Martindale, whose previous work has ranged from turning condo ads into tents to a street art exhibit at the AGO. “So we wanted to bring something more positive to the neighbourhood. The youth were saying that the neighbourhood needed more colour, and they wanted to show that there are positive things happening here.”
The mural—a rendering of which is along the right—marks the final stage of a year-long project in St. James Town by the STEPS Initiative, which brought together 40 St. James Town youth with eight artists to explore the community and explore how it could be changed by public art. Many ideas were thrown around—gardening, putting things in the trees, affixing things to the building walls, constructing something three dimensional—before eventually settling on the mural and phoenix design after numerous consultations with St. James Town residents. The mural may not have been the most unusual idea under consideration, but the final result will be far from average—not only will it be the highest mural in the city, it might be the highest in the world.
“We’ve submitted it to Guinness and we’re waiting to hear back for verification,” said Martindale. “But based on our online searches, it seems like it’s going to be the tallest in the world.”
Seventeen-year-old Aniqah Rahman was one of the young residents filling in the lower sections of the wall with grey paint on day one. (For a long—and probably obvious—list of reasons, the youth will not be painting the mural’s higher sections.) Rahman initially heard about the project through one of her teachers at Jarvis Collegiate back in September, and says it has changed the way she perceives her surroundings. “I learned that art can be pretty much anywhere. I didn’t expect that you could paint a mural on these walls. So it opened my eyes to all the different places public art can be.”
The plan is for the mural to be officially unveiled in September, with painting getting started on the upper levels a few weeks from now. Until then, residents and passersby can watch the project-in-progress with increasingly craned necks. And if Rahman gets her way, putting paint to brick will have the concrete result of drawing people to the site.
“I hope that, because St. James Town is usually a place you just pass through, people will stay here and look at it, and think, ‘Well, maybe this is a place I can actually hang out instead of just passing through to get someplace else.’”