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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 interviews with Anishinaabe Knowledge Keeper Andre Morrisseau of Fort William First Nation here, Leyland Adams here, and Caitlin Taguibao here.

Some of you will be familiar with Jessey (Art of Phade) Pacho’s powerful “Paint the City Black” project in 2020 when over 40 artists from the GTA and Montreal converged in Graffiti Alley to cover the area well known for its murals with images supporting Black Lives Matter. Jessey is a renowned graffiti artist, teacher, mentor, and is increasingly seen as a leader in his community for creating awareness around social injustice, equity, race relations, and community engagement. For 10 years, Jessey has managed multiple teams of artists using “hip hop” art forms to deliver programming in schools from kindergarten through grade 12, and in learning environments for Indigenous, newcomer, and marginalized communities across Canada. I hope you enjoy Part 1
of my talk with Jessey as much as I enjoyed being in conversation with him. He’s a remarkable person and artist and I’m excited to follow him as his career evolves.

In Part 2 of our conversation, Jessey and I delve into his work as an educator and activist. Referencing his StART supported project in Flemingdon Park as a lived example, Jessey illustrates how using art as a platform and space for people to share their stories empowers communities and neighbourhoods in Toronto and leaves residents with a genuine sense of belonging and representation that powers positive futures. He also unpacks the authenticity he seeks when reaching out for partners from both the public and private sectors. Jessey is a generous teacher and we can learn a great deal from his approach to art as a city building tool.

Part 3 of my conversation with Jessey highlights the importance of providing cumulative creative challenges and opportunities for street artists throughout their career trajectory. In this segment, we follow the story of Jessey’s “Highway of Heroes” mural that he co-created with a group of youth in Flemingdon. Jessey shares his process of mural creation from finding a wall, connecting the site to meaningful mural themes, engaging the community, and the critical albeit unglamorous aspect of ongoing maintenance of public art in the public realm. He also explains how his graffiti crew evolved to become a professional artist collective through both public and private support. Jessey is also the founder of the StART supported “Everyone vs Racism” collaboration with Speedy Transport. I hope you enjoy this final segment of my enlightening conversation with Jessey.

Videographer & Video Editor: Mitchell Roberts

Photo by: Katherine Fleitas