Field Notes: Long Winter at the Galleria
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Field Notes: Long Winter at the Galleria

Is partying in one of Toronto's crappiest malls at night the best party of the year, or should we call our mom to pick us up?

During the day, seagulls, pigeons, and empty McDonald’s bags inhabit the Galleria Mall lot.

But on Saturday night at Dufferin and Dupont, a line of kids, art lovers and curious neighbours flock to the outdated mall to enter Long Winter Galleria, an installation and show that would reclaim the space as their own.

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A long white hallway leads into the Galleria. It normally serves as the back entrance to Planet Fitness, the mall’s 24/7 gym and one of several recent attempts at more modern relevance to the community. Joggers can still be seen trudging on treadmills alongside a photo exhibit by Shari Kasman that categorizes the various shades of “Galleria green” into different Pantone paint chips.

The fluorescent lights that lend the local landmark that nauseating hue are all off now. Music fans load up on mall hot dogs and tuna fish sandwiches from Galleria’s iconic snack bar as bands scream their lungs out against the backdrop of the closed Dollarama. Anni Spadafora of New Fries stares dead ahead into the audience, her guitar strapped up high under her armpit, letting spastic chords and killer riffs squeal from the instrument. The white-suited, left-handed bassist shakes his shaggy hair along to wandering lines. A dancer in a green M&M costume and a mouse mask joins the band on stage, moving their arms and hands as if summoning a goddess or a demon.

One girl manages to crowd surf for maybe six awesome seconds. One area is marked by a banner emblazoned BUNZ SHOP GALLERIA 3000, an IRL manifestation of the Internet craze/Facebook group. A quick tour of the art exhibits includes a sort of pink glowing light sabre surrounded by sound machines, a blacklight tent filled with music and multi-coloured neon pebbles, and a giant pigeon’s head constructed from shredded plastic bags.

19+ cultural buffs expecting a beer at a concert were crammed into one of two claustrophobic abandoned storefronts from which almost none of the general art or music were visible. One of these was christened “Shoppers Dance Mart.” A few glassy-eyed knots of kids swing their heads about and bend their knees slightly, glancing around self-consciously. Most people are so exhausted by waiting in line to get in, for drink tickets, and then drinks, that with no seating they take up residence against the wall, peering into their phones while clutching one of their maximum four drinks.

For many, the Galleria is part of their daily landscape: tailors, the half dozen shops selling soccer jerseys and bongs, the coin-operated rides and gumball machines. It’s about that little bit of magic in your trip to the pharmacy, the opportunity to slip a coin into something and get a mysterious wrapped pack of trading cards, or find out how great a lover you are.

Art collectives like No Fun have added their own twist, having installed loonie traps that vend stickers made by the group. It’s an homage to the way these playful artifacts dot the city’s more outdated spaces, and they connect us with childhood memories.

Like the vending machines that spit out so many toy capsules, by continuing to surprise and delight, art and music can enliven community spaces like Galleria; the sound chases away the seagulls and the pigeons, and new memories can be made.