Public art is work in any medium created by an artist and displayed in a publicly accessible area. The City’s definition of public art acknowledges the necessity for a wide framework that encompasses a variety of creative methods and aims while capturing many key elements: Public art may take many different forms. It includes a wide variety of creative techniques based on the visual arts heritage, such as sculpture, murals, street and graffiti art, film, and digital media. Aspects of performance, drama, music, culturally important rituals, or other more transitory aesthetic experiences may also be included. The creative medium will depend on what a program or commission is about and what its goals are.
Public art may be either permanent or transitory. Public art may be created as a long-term or “permanent” installation that will endure for the foreseeable future, or as a shorter-term, “temporary” piece that can be experienced over days, weeks, months, or years. Artists may use public art as a platform. The city tries to provide meaningful opportunities for both new and experienced professional artists via its public art initiatives. As a result, whether working alone or as part of a team that includes curators, public art consultants, designers, architects, landscape architects, community members, or others, artists should take the lead in the creative process for public art. Public art is meant to engage the public and is intended for public settings. Public art is made and displayed in inclusive, barrier-free public areas such as parks, community centers, bridges, underpasses, laneways, or privately owned public spaces (POPs). It is meant to be site-specific, integrating into and improving its surroundings, distinguishing it from art displayed in public areas or one-time performances. Public art creates and shapes a sense of place. This is especially important in Toronto, where it promotes Indigenous placemaking and shows how Indigenous people have always lived on the land where Toronto is now.
Its policies advocate for public art efforts to improve city-owned places, as well as the inclusion of public art in all major private-sector developments in Toronto. Supported by the Official Plan’s vision, the City now offers three main public art initiatives that contribute significantly to animating Toronto’s public spaces: the City of Toronto Public Art and Monuments Collection, the Percent for Public Art Program, and StreetARToronto. Together, these initiatives have produced over 1,500 pieces of public art that can be seen in each of Toronto’s wards, and they help to execute the policy directives outlined in the City’s Official Plan as well as other Council-approved measures such as the Graffiti Management Plan. The Toronto Public Art Strategy aims to build on these programs’ solid foundations and accomplishments by building a unified vision to increase their combined public impact and deepen cooperation.
These key city-led activities are just one way to engage with public art in Toronto. Independent public art initiatives conducted by cultural institutions, community groups, Business Improvement Districts, and others play a critical role in defining our daily experience of the city. Every year during Nuit Blanche, Toronto comes alive with a celebration of ephemeral public art. Furthermore, municipal departments direct recognized public art initiatives that enliven city areas and infrastructure. Waterfront Toronto is constructing a modern collection of public art along the city’s waterfront, supported by developer contributions and guided by public art strategies and master plans, which will become part of the city’s public art and monuments collection once completed. And, led by its Art in Public Transit Facilities Policy, the Toronto Transit Commission has enhanced transit facilities around the city with unique pieces of public art. Greater collaboration between the city, its agencies, independent initiatives, and special events will improve Toronto’s standing as a public art capital in the future.
Everyone can help to advance truth and reconciliation. Public art may be an expressive entrance point into this discourse, helping to restore visibility to Toronto’s Indigenous communities, generating a stronger feeling of home and belonging, and inspiring dialogue about colonialism’s legacy and a shared road forward. Tannis Nielsen’s powerful murals along Lower Simcoe Street; Kenneth Lavallee’s work, which was thoughtfully integrated into the design of Dr. Lillian McGregor Park; and a planned landmark sculpture honoring Indian Residential School Survivors at Nathan Phillips Square are examples of how public art is being used to share Indigenous stories. With continuous action, public art may expand on the communal, cultural, and educational effects of these and other initiatives, as well as offer chances for meaningful engagement as equal partners between the city and Indigenous producers and communities.