Builders, municipalities work together for public art

As development in our region intensifies, public art is flourishing in our communities. Besides beautifying the places where we live and work, these sculptures, murals and LED installations create a sense of community, evoke civic pride and invite tourism. Many of these works are the result of creative partnerships between our industry, municipalities and artists.

In the city of Toronto, a large portion of public art is funded through the Percent for Public Art Program, which has developers contribute one per cent of the gross construction cost of projects to public art. In return, the City may allow them to increase the height of a building or build a denser development. Depending on the size of the contribution, it may be used to commission an art installation on site, pooled in the City’s Public Art Reserve Fund or a combination of the two options.

In the last five years alone, the program has seen the completion of approximately $25 million in public art, with additional funding secured that has not yet been spent. Since its inception, the Percent for Public Art Program has enriched Toronto with more than 150 pieces of public art. Many are part of condominium developments and enjoyed by residents and passers-by alike. An example is a work titled We Are All Animals, in a public plaza in front of a condo near High Park. The installation, commissioned by the developer of a Toronto-based art studio, consists of a long bronze bench, a trio of coyote sculptures and an LED screen showing an ever-changing digital rendering of High Park’s landscape.

Another remarkable piece of art that people can enjoy is Guard with Balloon Dog, a stencil attributed to the anonymous graffiti artist Banksy, which is on display in the PATH system near 1 York Street. It was found on the wall of a former office building in the Harbourfront area. Before the building was demolished, the developer salvaged the panels, had them professionally restored and installed them, along with a commissioned companion piece.

Other municipalities are also building their public art collections thanks to partnerships with our industry, despite the fact that public art contributions are voluntary. For example, in Mississauga, a two-part metal and glass sculpture called Migration, depicting birds in flight, forms a gateway over Duke of York Boulevard where it meets Burnhamthorpe Road. The work was jointly funded by developers behind two nearby condo projects and the City of Mississauga.

And in Markham, kids and kids at heart can ride a colourful piece of public art, a merry-go-round featuring characters that evoke Canada, such as a beaver, Mountie, moose and salmon. The carousel, made by Canadian-born, California-based artist Patrick Amiot, is called Pride of Canada, and was made out of repurposed materials collected across the country. It is the centrepiece of an extensive public art initiative that is being spearheaded by the developer behind the major mixed-use development in downtown Markham. The collection includes street art photography in an underground parking garage and a floral light sculpture over the entrance of a shopping centre.

There are plenty of examples of art that we all get to appreciate because of such partnerships. As our region continues to grow, we will need more of this collaboration to create thriving communities where people can live, work and enjoy their leisure time. With elections approaching this year, BILD will be asking questions about how we can work together to make this vision a reality.

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