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Art for art's sake

True to its name, the Art Shoppe condo will be a showcase for creativity.
Original article by Neil Sharma

As Toronto continues to blossom, so too will public art in the city. Pedestrians might notice const r uction hoarding adorned with art installations. That’s because, as per city legislation, at least 50 per cent of hoarding must showcase art — giving amblers something to gaze upon other than tractors, chunks of concrete and dust.

Yet, legislation aside, developers are keen to comply.

According to Alexis Kane Speer, founding director of The STEPS Initiative, an independent charitable public arts organization, developers must pay signage fees for hoarding, but going over the 50 per cent minimum requirement incurs heavy costs.

“There’s incentive to cover as much of the hoarding as possible with artwork to cut down on signage fees,” she said. “It is pushing developers to think a bit differently about what advertising is.”

Kane Speers believes that instead of plastering giant phone numbers and building renderings on site, and if builders “can collaborate on a really cool public art installation that draws attention to their site,” it will serve as a form of creative advertising and get people to talk about the project.

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“I don’t think the artwork is taking away from the marketing opportunity. If they go about it the right way it can serve their marketing objective by reaching people in authentic and interesting ways,” she adds.

Art Shoppe Lofts + Condos’ hoarding on Yonge St. south of Eglinton Ave. in mid-town will feature an art installation by Zimbabwean artist Chikonzero Chazunguza called In the City, in which themes concerning happiness, freedom, democracy and identity, as fashioned through consumerism in urban milieus, are grippingly explored.

Chazunguza was selected by Art Shoppe’s builders — Freed Developments and Capital Developments — after being shortlisted by PATCH, whose host charity is The STEPS Initiative.

True to i t s name, Art Shoppe’s lobbies were also designed by international fashion icon, Karl Lagerfeld.

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Mid-town is experiencing a building boom, which, Kane Speer says, has the potential to turn it into a hotbed of artistic expression — much like Art Shoppe has endeavoured.

“Folks in the cultural sector have overlooked (Midtown) because it isn’t viewed as being an exciting part of the city — folks think downtown for arts and culture — but that means there are a lot of untapped canvasses,” she continued. “There’s a lot of opportunity there.”

While the art installations are temporary — they’re discarded with the hoarding when construction is complete — STEPS offers assistance finding permanent placement for the artworks, provided they’re still in presentable condition.

STEPS shortlists artists and usually recommends art befitting of the development and area but Freed and Capital Developments both chose Chazunguza after viewing his work.

Kalliopi Karkas, director of marketing for Freed Developments, says both developers wanted to showcase artwork that would make pedestrians stop in their tracks to decipher the artwork’s message, in keeping with Art Shoppe’s theme of expression.

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“When the hoarding came up, one of the reasons we chose this artist was because we wanted something visually impactful, and being on Yonge, there’s a responsibility to the city to do something that captures the street’s spirit,” she said. “We knew we wanted to do something that was colourful and we felt like this artist’s work had that life to it.”

There’s a proliferation of artwork on Toronto’s streets, in part because the business sector is beginning to recognize the value of conflating art and commercial enterprise.

Specifically, properties adjacent to cultural activities appreciate in value and, because of lingering foot traffic, businesses usually benefit, says Kane Speer.

“PATCH is a great example of how the cultural sector and business sector can collaborate to create more vibrant communities,” she continued. “It’s becoming more and more recognized that arts and culture are valuable assets, not because they socially make us feel good and provide entertainment, but also because property values and adjacent businesses are valued higher.

“The business sector hasn’t historically been engaged in arts and culture, but that’s starting to change.”

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