Arts in the Parks is making our city's natural space a lot more entertaining.
Toronto parks are no longer just for lazy days lounging in the grass, catching some rays, and scenic strolls. This summer, they’ll be transformed into outdoor art galleries, stages, and theatres.
June marks the beginning of “Arts in the Parks,” a new initiative brought forth by the Toronto Arts Foundation and sister organization Toronto Arts Council, which will bring public art events in parks across the city.
The events, which start this month, will include music, theatre, dance performances, film screenings, and temporary arts installations, all of which are free to the public.
The initiative launched in partnership with the City’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation department, Arts and Culture Services, and Park People, an organization that wants to improve neighbourhood engagement in parks.
Claire Hopkinson, director of Toronto Arts Foundation and Toronto Arts Council, says the initiative will address the lack of exposure some neighbourhoods have had to arts programming.
“Outside of the downtown core, there’s very little in the way of existing arts infrastructure—there aren’t many cultural places in most centres,” she says. “In this way, we will be turning our parks into our amphitheaters and our galleries.”
A 2015 public survey conducted by LegerWeb found that 97 per cent of Torontonians see at least one benefit of the arts to the city—including that it attracts tourists, highlights cultural diversity, and improves the economy. But about 63 per cent indicate that cost is a barrier to arts attendance, while 30 per cent say they live too far away from arts events.
Meanwhile, about 70 per cent of respondents believe professional artists add value to the city and deserve appropriate compensation.
Hopkinson says part of what inspired Arts in the Parks was “listening to artists and their challenges in obtaining permits to do works in the parks, that it was a rather laborious affair, but also knowing how much they have to spend on promotion.”
She adds that in many cases, professional artists have to sacrifice parts of their own salaries to secure spaces and promote their work. “As we know, performance space in Toronto, or any space, is hard to come by,” she says.
The Toronto Arts Council is providing up to $530,000 in funding for artists and organizations in order to support free arts programming in 23 parks outside of the downtown core.
The City has also streamlined its permit process for the months to come.
Beginning last month, the Parks, Forestry and Recreation department created a new permit category called “Arts and Music in the Parks” for artists who want to showcase their work in a number of pre-selected park locations. There will be 350 permits available.
“Artists are invited to approach the city to get a free permit for small, one-day events,” Hopkinson says.
Dave Harvey, founder and director of Park People, says the goal is also to connect artists with different groups and agencies that are active in local parks.
“We started with some discussions back and forth about how we can get more interesting arts programming happening outside the downtown, and particularly with a focus on some of the underserved neighbourhoods,” he says. “Its not just an artist jumping into Chester Le Park in Scarborough without any real knowledge of the neighbourhood, or the people who live there. They can actually work with the community and make it more of a community event.”
Hopkinson says she hopes the initiative will ultimately give Torontonians greater access to the arts.
“We have one of the most culturally vibrant cities in the world. We have the largest number of artists in Toronto than any other city in Canada, by a very long shot,” she says. “We want to share that.”
Here are five Arts in the Parks events to check out this summer:
Light on the Lakeshore
Amos Waites Park, Etobicoke (2445 Lake Shore Boulevard West)
June 14 to 18, 6:00 p.m.
A solstice celebration featuring European folk dance, lantern-making and shadow puppet performance.
Ding-o-lay: Carnival Arts of the Caribbean
Shoreham Walkway, North York (31 Shoreham Drive)
June 17, 2:00 p.m.
Jamea Zuberi and Christopher Pinheiro present a showcase of the Carnival Arts of the Caribbean and a celebratory animation and jump up, featuring steel pan percussion, dance, stilt-walking and more.
Toronto Outdoor Picture Show presents Vampires in the Outfield
Queensway Park, Etobicoke (9 Avon Park Drive)
June 18, 7:00 pm
A dusk screening of Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922) with an original musical score composed and performed live by Toronto-based band Del Bel. The programme will also contain pre-show entertainment curated in collaboration with the local community.
Shakespeare in the Ruff presents My Co-Mates and Brothers in Exile
Walter Saunders Memorial Park, North York (440 Hopewell Avenue)
June 22 to 26, 8:00 p.m.
A site-specific new theatre work using Shakespearean text and text from Canadian and International female poets. It is a comedic, multilingual and multidisciplinary promenade piece exploring an immigrant’s journey as they set off for Canada and ultimately are welcomed by the community.
Celebrating Mother Earth Pow Wow
Chester Le Park, Scarborough (255 Chester Le Boulevard)
June 25, 12:00 p.m.
Agincourt Community Services Association (ACSA) will partner with Three Sisters House and Red Pepper Spectacle Arts to present a mosaic unveiling and a Pow Wow to celebrate the new Indigenous garden inspired by aboriginal heritage and celebrating the ‘three sisters’ crop.