City-owned Public Art
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City-owned works of public art and historical monuments enhance public spaces all over Toronto. The earliest piece dates to 1870 while new acquisitions are added each year through commissions and donations. Public art enlivens municipal spaces, City parks, transit infrastructure, even bridges and underpasses.
City of Toronto Arts & Culture Services endeavours to commission innovative public art works that are of the highest quality, are relevant to their prospective community and context, and enrich the urban experience of Toronto’s residents and visitors. The City of Toronto aims to carry out this ambition through equitable and objective selection processes with valuable input from community members and guidance from relevant professionals.
Arts & Culture Services’ commissions are awarded through a competitive process. Competitions are adjudicated by a qualified independent selection panel with professional expertise in contemporary art and knowledge of the local context.
Artist selection processes
The process by which an artist is selected for a commission has a significant impact on its development and use of the appropriate process has a continuing influence on the project’s success beyond its completion.
The City of Toronto operates competitions as its primary form of artist selection process. Depending on requirements specific to the project, the competition may be open, limited or invitational:
- Open – an open competition is most frequently practiced by Toronto. The competition is a widely publicized call for artists to submit entries; this is the process most favoured by the City of Toronto and adhered to whenever project budget and timeframe allow.
- Limited – limited competitions may be staged when a project requires a specific art form, or there are pressing time restrictions on its completion. In this instance a smaller number of artists are invited to submit their qualifications and project proposals.
- Invitational – invitational competitions are when the commissioning body invites an artist to submit a proposal to be judged by the selection panel. The City of Toronto rarely employs this form of competition.
The form of competition to be used for a particular project is determined by City staff.
An independent selection panel is convened for each public art commission under the City of Toronto’s jurisdiction.
These selection panels select short-listed and winning artists, measuring the artist’s proposal and past work against the general goals of the City’s Public Art Policy and the specific objectives of the project at hand.
Qualified selection panels are chosen comprising a majority of recognised visual arts professionals as well as representatives of the community with interests in the site. These selection panels select short-listed and winning artists for public art projects for properties under the City of Toronto’s jurisdiction.
The selection panel has a composition according to City Policy of two community members and three arts professionals. For every project, the City and the Public Art Competition Coordinator, if applicable, strive to ensure that one of the art professionals is also a member of the local community.
Selection panel members recognised as visual arts professionals may include artists, curators, art educators, visual art administrators, art historians, architects and landscape architects. Art dealers are not allowed to participate on selection panels.
Many of the works of art in Toronto’s public spaces have been donated to the City by individuals, groups or organizations.
The acceptance of artistic gifts and commemorations is governed by the Public Art and Monuments Donations Policy, updated and adopted by City Council in January 2017.
The Public Art and Monuments Donation Policy aims to ensure that all donated artworks accepted and installed in Toronto’s public realm demonstrate outstanding aesthetic values, meet technical safety and sustainability criteria, demonstrate clear relationships to the City, Ontario and/or Canada, and are appropriate to the surroundings where the work will be located.
Toronto Arts & Culture Services staff has a wealth of experience in working closely with the donor of a prospective addition to the City’s collection to ensure the integrity of the donation process.
How to propose a donation of public art or a monument
Acceptance of public art into the City’s collection is decided through a two-step process.
Step 2: If the preliminary application is unsuccessful, the applicant will be informed in writing, and the application will not proceed.
If the preliminary application is successful, the donor will be asked to complete the full application, which will be provided by City staff. The Public Art Office has expertise and experience in assisting prospective donors.
Please send preliminary applications to:
Manager, Cultural Partnerships
Economic Development & Culture
Arts & Culture Services, Public Art Office
9th Floor, East Tower
Toronto City Hall
100 Queen Street West
Toronto, Ontario M5H 2N2
An art collection exhibited outdoors requires ongoing maintenance due to exposure to harsh weather conditions, vandalism and pollution.
Toronto Culture is committed to maintaining its outdoor Art and Monuments collection. Under the direction of the division’s Public Art Conservator, works from the collection are cleaned and conserved as required.
The City of Toronto operates competitions as its primary artist selection process. Competitions are adjudicated by a qualified independent selection panel with professional expertise in contemporary art and knowledge of the local context. Toronto public art competitions are announced here.
When a work is added to the City’s Public Art collection a community celebration and unveiling is held. There are currently no events planned.