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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

The Power of Place: Artists as City Builders

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Welcome to The Power of Place: Artists as City Builders. This series emerged out of my strong interest to share with you the incredible work that is happening across the city by artists supported by our StreetARToronto team, with a focus on highlighting the work being done by diverse Indigenous, Black, and Peoples of Colour artists throughout Toronto.

View my previous interview with Anishinaabe Knowledge Keeper Andre Morrisseau of Fort William First Nation here.

My exploration of the role of street art as a tool to empower communities through meaningful art continues with my first of three video segments with artist Leyland Adams. These interviews focus on communities whose voices have too often not been heard, or heard but not respectfully considered. Leyland and I discuss his trajectory from working with Youth to discovering aerosol to studying art at Sheridan College to becoming a full-fledged graffiti and mural artist — including a side-hustle involving painting art on shoes! Enjoy this introduction to the artist Leyland Adams.

In this segment, Leyland talks about the key to successful and meaningful community engagement which begins with the community, continues throughout his projects, and lives on after his murals are complete by creating a sense of belonging and pride of place. He also walks me through his lived experience of StART’s career ladder for artists, and how StART’s suite of 9 programs, career development ladder and skills building pipeline work together to provide him and other artists and curators with an integrated system of support and professional development that leads to the creation of meaningful, impactful, community engaged public art. Leyland also shared the critical role mentorship played in building his artistic confidence and launching his career.

In this video, Leyland and I discuss his “Toronto Island Sunset” mural at Yonge and St. Clair — the first fully accessible mural commissioned by StreetARToronto and one that is sure to be a game-changer in the world of accessibility and public art. Considered a multi-media work, it can be experienced not only through sight, but also hearing and touch, making it accessible to the blind and partially sighted. Created in partnership with the CNIB Foundation, the mural aims to recreate a view of city’s skyline from Toronto Island. High-contrast colours help viewers with vision loss identify different elements in the picture. The skyline itself is a dark silhouette against a vivid sunset of yellow, orange and red. Texture was added to the rocks, sand and trees on the beach in the foreground and flowing lines of texture are included through the water. An audible description of the art plays over speakers and recorded audio (from beaches on Toronto Island) allows people to experience the ambient sounds of the beach, including children playing and laughing. In addition to enjoying the artwork, the mural and the collaborative development process it emerged from encourages blind and visually impaired people as well as full sighted people to become artists. Leyland is a remarkable artist who has only just begun to show Toronto and the world a new, more accessible path forward for visual art in the public realm. We should all be very proud to claim Leyland as one of “Toronto’s own”. I hope you enjoy this video as much as I enjoyed my conversation with this inspiring Toronto street, mural and graffiti artist.

Videographer & Video Editor: Denizen Productions

Photo by: Rico King