How Toronto's Identity is Reflected in its Public Art

Torontoist

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How Toronto’s Identity is Reflected in its Public Art

Murals are in constant dialogue with their surroundings.

The 519 Mural on Church Street. Photo courtesy of Christiano De Araujo.

The 519 Mural on Church Street. Photo courtesy of Christiano De Araujo.

Toronto is a city fixated on beautifying its landscape with murals. Its walls and surfaces, both above and below the ground, are coated in neighbourhood-specific images and messages.

The city’s public art tends to be in constant dialogue with its surroundings—often told in fairly straightforward terms. Commissioned artists seem driven by a singular impulse: to capture the people or the defining feature of that particular place.

What’s produced has the expressly uniform function of acting as a placemaker for the area, greeting us on our everyday commute. On the street level, “Love Liberty” announces that you’re in the heart of Liberty Village, and the 519 Mural on Church Street celebrates LGBT history.

Below ground, there’s Dufferin station’s “Something Happens Here”—a pixelated mural that showcases blurred scenes from the world above underground. Its colourful, glossy image—no Instagram filter required—is deeply rooted in the neighbourhood’s identity.

And it’s an exuberant yet uncomplicated reflection of a bustling city that perhaps has little time to pause. But if you do, spare a moment to check the tiles out, and you’ll see engraved images of icons and other references that draw on the area’s history.

"Something Happens Here," in Dufferin station. Photo courtesy of São Paulo-Manitoba.

“Something Happens Here,” in Dufferin station. Photo courtesy of São Paulo-Manitoba.

That Berlin, London, or New York out-rival Toronto’s underground art—and street art, for that matter—is indisputable. But it’s less about the extensive reach of their subway network and more about their expansive interpretation of how to breathe life into the underground world.

Take Bryant Park station in New York, with its representation of the life that courses underground. Roots and pipes are intertwined with the unlikely juxtaposition of quotes from Carl Jung and Mother Goose—what those two have in common escapes me.

But it’s these quirks that compel you to stop. Public art, even when it’s produced on the public dime, doesn’t always have to be easily digestible.

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