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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Liberty Village hits benchmark

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The Henry Moore outside the AGO may have been turned into an improvised chaise longue by lunchtime OCAD students, but Liberty Village has art that you're actually supposed to sit on.

In 2006, the Liberty Village BIA unveiled The BENCHmark Project, a set of three park benches commissioned as artworks from two area artists. The project received most of its funding in the form of a grant from the mayor's Clean and Beautiful City initiative. Its first three benches were designed to metaphorically link the neighbourhood's past, present, and future.

Artist Mina Arawaka decorated one bench with an archival map of the neighbourhood. Facing it diagonally is another, this one decorated with a recent Google satellite image of the same area. Jess Perlitz, an artist who lives and works in Liberty Village, created a bench inspired by Marshall McLuhan. It features "talk tubes," situated at each end of the bench and channelled underground.

Liberty Village used to be one of Toronto's best kept secrets — its industrial-chic architecture and burgeoning arts community were hidden between King Street West and the Gardiner — but the condo scouts have sniffed it out. LVBIA Vice Chair Jane Siklos has faith that the project will help preserve the area's personality. It "supports the creativity and community spirit that defines Liberty Village," she says.

BENCHmark coordinator Jessica Tudos agrees that public art is a good way to revitalize the neighbourhood, and notes that these benches are the first real examples of public art in the area.

As well, they're the first really deliberate "congregation spots" where people are encouraged to stop, hang out, and contemplate their neighbourhood. "Public art," says Tudos, "is an opportunity to enhance the experience one has of walking through a space. The BENCHmark [pieces] invite interaction, discussion or perhaps an opportunity to simply sit and think…on a masterpiece."