City of Toronto’s Year of Public Art in 2021

Culture is an important component of Toronto’s economic vitality, social cohesion and livability. In view of this, the City of Toronto has a solid track record of support for the arts, including a significant collection of public art. Through sustained investment in culture, the City has reached an investment level of $25 per capita annually since 2017. This includes a 75 per cent increase in the funding to the Toronto Arts Council since 2012.

The City delivers three public art programs: the Public Art and Monuments Collection, the Percent for Public Art Program and StreetARToronto (StART). The programs have had a transformative effect on Toronto’s urban fabric, assembling a collection of public art that, in its scale and diversity, is of international significance.

The Public Art and Monuments Collection

The City has a legacy of public art that dates from the middle of the 19th century. Building on this historical legacy, today the City’s Public Art and Monuments Collection contains close to 300 works that are managed and maintained by the City’s Economic Development and Culture (EDC) Division. The City’s collection primarily grows through commissions and donations. EDC’s public art program builds upon existing relationships between the City, artists, arts organizations and community members to create opportunities for Toronto residents to participate in the arts. The program also encourages civic discussion about public art, makes possible the expression of a variety of cultural voices, enhances a community sense of ownership and value by commissioning works that are site-specific, and encourages awareness of collective heritages and neighbourhood identities.

Percent for Public Art Program

A significant component of the public art funding in Toronto is the result of the Percent for Public Art program, which places artwork on both private and public lands.

The program delivers public art in three ways:

  1. On-site public art where a private developer has agreed to commission public art as part of the development approval.
  2. On-site public art where the developer commissions art and donates the land and the art to the City.
  3. The developer provides a cash donation to the City, for art that will be commissioned on City lands.

The development industry has embraced the Percent for Public Art Program, recognizing that public art can add significantly to the attractiveness, profile and value of a development. With approximately 200 projects completed and another 100 underway, private developers have contributed 300 projects over the past 30 years.

StreetART Toronto

StreetARToronto (StART) has its origins in the Graffiti Management Plan adopted by City Council in 2011 and has grown to become an award-winning public art program focusing on street art. StART and the Graffiti Management Plan received a national Institute of Public Administration (IPAC) award for public sector excellence for its ability to effectively turn around the considerable graffiti vandalism problem in Toronto through its engagement and its approach. Since its inception, StART has evolved into a collection of programs that focus on advancing Council’s Strategic Actions and achieving Transportation Services’ divisional objectives. By reducing and replacing graffiti vandalism with colourful and vibrant artwork, street art installations make Toronto’s streets more inviting and safe, encourage active transportation such as walking and cycling, and help maintain infrastructure in a state of good repair, thereby reducing maintenance costs. The program also provides a great boost to Toronto’s street artists looking to scale their visions.

10-year public art strategy

The Year of Public Art is part of the City’s new 10-year public art strategy that will be presented to City Council for consideration. The strategy seeks to renew the City’s vision and commitment to public art. It includes guiding principles and actions to enhance the impact of the City’s public art programs and is being developed based on extensive community consultation including artist-led public engagement, community meetings stakeholder focus groups, and an Advisory Committee of cultural leaders.

2021: Toronto’s Year of Public Art

On November 18, Mayor John Tory proclaimed 2021 as the Year of Public Art, a year-long celebration of art and community. Working in partnership with artists, arts organizations and communities during the Year of Public Art, the City will engage residents and visitors in a city-wide recognition of public art and celebrate the incredible body of work created by local and international artists and supported by arts institutions, developers and the City.

Year of Public Art External Advisory Committee

The Year of Public Art will be driven by collaboration with Toronto’s artists and arts institutions, as well as the broader public. It will build upon the recommendations of the report prepared by OCAD University and the University of Toronto, “Reconsidering Public Art in Toronto” and will be guided by an advisory group co-led by Councillor Gary Crawford and Dr. Sara Diamond of OCAD University. The group will include the following local arts champions

  • Mimi Joh-Carnella, Partners In Art
  • Jeff Hull, Hullmark
  • Krystal Koo, Dream Unlimited Build
  • Luis Jacob, artist
  • Mazyar Mortazavi, TAS Design
  • Bonnie Devine, OCAD University
  • Kari Cwynar, Evergreen Brickworks
  • Corrie Jackson, RBC
  • Bruce Kawabara, KPMG Architects
  • Shawn Micallef, noted urbanist
  • Michele Erskine, OutFront Media
  • Claire Hopkinson, Director and CEO, Toronto Arts Council

Planning for the Year of Public Art

The Year of Public Art will build on Toronto’s significant collection of public art works, improve public access to art and commission new artwork.

The City will deliver the Year of Public Art as a means of engaging artists, key arts institutions and the public by:

  • Supporting the forthcoming Public Art Strategy, created through extensive public consultation, to be presented to City Council.
  • Working with the Mayor’s External Advisory Committee for the Year of Public Art to champion the initiative and ensure it has relevance and reach for the public and private partners who support public art in Toronto.
  • Providing real opportunities to Toronto artists to produce new artwork in time for 2021, through a new funding opportunity launched by the Toronto Arts Council.
  • Collaborating with key partner arts institutions on significant new initiatives for 2021, including legacy commissions of major public artworks and public engagement activities, across the city.
  • Expanding the City’s cultural events to celebrate public art, foremost among these the city-wide expansion of Nuit Blanche Toronto by 2021, to build on the success of Nuit Blanche in Scarborough. Nuit Blanche will be expanded to North York in 2020 and, by 2021, it will have a presence in Scarborough, North York, Etobicoke, and downtown Toronto. The expansion will include funding opportunities for artists and arts organizations.
  • Reflecting all Toronto communities in public art, including the appointment of Dr. Julie Nagam to lead the expansion of Nuit Blanche Toronto and the appointment of Rhéanne Chartrand, a Metis curator and creative producer, who will assume artistic direction of the Indigenous Arts Festival, to build on the recent success of the event’s expansion.
  • Investing in access to public art, starting with a new City public art online presence to be launched by the end 2019 and greater investment in public outreach and the maintenance of public art.

Defining public art

For the purposes of the Year of Public Art, the City will employ a clear definition in establishing partnerships and funding programs that will encompass both the monumental, permanent installations commonly associated with public art, as well as other less permanent works that still meet explicit criteria for such key aspects as scale, duration, accessibility and public engagement. Further details will be included in guidelines for the Toronto Arts Council’s new funding opportunity related to the Year of Public Art.

Supporting Toronto artists

Recognizing that Toronto’s important collection of public art reflects the creativity and dynamism of local artists, the Year of Public Art will open up new funding opportunities for artists. As a first step, the Toronto Arts Council will introduce in November 2019 a new program to support Toronto artists seeking to create public art works for the Year of Public Art in 2021. Additional measures will be identified in the future, subject to Council approval.

Cultural institutions

The Year of Public Art will partner with leading cultural institutions and create new funding opportunities for Toronto artists though a new grant to be delivered by the Toronto Arts Council for artist-led public art projects. The Year of Public Art will leave an enduring legacy through significant new art commissions, increased support to artists working in the public realm and diverse opportunities for meaningful engagement and interaction among artists, art and the public.

In recognition of the many arts institutions across the city that have made Toronto a centre of public art, the Year of Public Art will be delivered in close collaboration with a range of partners, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Bentway, the Toronto Biennial of Art, Luminato, the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto, Harbourfront Centre, the Power Plant, the network of Local Arts Service Organizations, OCAD University, Osmington (Union Station), Art Toronto, the Toronto Arts Council and the network of Local Arts Service Organizations.

Engaging the public in public art

The Year of Public Art will feature a renewed commitment by the City to support public engagement with public art. This will include a new, consolidated web presence for the City’s three public art programs to be launched by end 2019, as well as prioritizing public access and engagement in any new projects supported under the Year of Public Art. In addition, working with partners such as the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Bentway, the Year of Public Art will feature public talks, workshops and other engagement opportunities.

Cultural events and festivals

The Year of Public Art will work closely with all of Toronto’s major contemporary art events, including the Toronto Biennial of Art, Luminato, the Toronto Art Fair, and City-led projects such as Doors Open Toronto, which will carry a public art theme in 2021. This will include a renewed vision for public art with program expansions and multi-year artistic director appointments for Nuit Blanche and the Indigenous Arts Festival.

Nuit Blanche is Toronto’s annual all-night celebration of contemporary art, produced by the City in collaboration with Toronto’s arts community. Since 2006, this award-winning event has featured 1,571 art installations by approximately 5,600 artists. The 15th edition of Nuit Blanche is scheduled for October 3, 2020.

Under the Year of Public Art banner, Nuit Blanche will expand to all corners of the city by 2021. Building upon the success of Nuit Blanche’s expansion into Scarborough in 2018 and 2019, Nuit Blanche will extend into North York in 2020 and Etobicoke for 2021.

Dr. Julie Nagam will be the Nuit Blanche artistic director for the 2020 and 2021 festivals. Dr. Nagam is the Canadian Research Chair in Indigenous Arts, Collaboration and Digital Media and is an Associate Professor at the University of Winnipeg. Dr. Nagam’s research includes digital media and design, place-based knowledge and incubators, including the development of the Indigenous Research Centre Aabijijiwan in Winnipeg.

The two-year curatorial theme for Nuit Blanche will be “The Space Between Us,” focusing on the connections across urban, polar and pacific landscapes revealing the space between us as a potential site for sharing knowledges.

The eighth annual Indigenous Arts Festival (IAF) will take place June 19 to 21, 2020 under the artistic direction of Rhéanne Chartrand, a Metis curator and creative producer and Curator of Indigenous Art at the McMaster Museum of Art in Hamilton. The IAF in 2020 will build on the recent success of the event’s expansion to include a greater focus on public art.

More information about the City’s public art strategy and the Year of Public Art 2021 is available.