SPACED: THE STREET AS A GALLERY on Ossington, from Dundas West to Queen West. To September 24. bandedpurple.co
The pandemic has inspired many Torontonians to explore the city on foot, and – more and more – art curators are taking note.
But even before COVID-19, there were calls to liberate visual art from gallery walls and make it accessible to people who might feel put off by conventional institutional environs.
“Art needs to be shared publicly,” says Duane Bobbsemple, who runs the creative company Banded Purple. “I’m Jamaican and Guyanese. My parents are immigrants and they felt super intimidated by gallery spaces. Growing up, when I would go to museums, I didn’t see any work that felt validating.”
Working with Nia Centre for the Arts, the city and a handful of brand sponsors, Bobbsemple turned the bustling strip of restaurants on Ossington between Dundas West and Queen West into Spaced gallery, a walking art tour featuring five photo-based works by up-and-coming Black Canadian artists.
The idea grew out of the Black Creators Fund, a GoFundMe page that Bobbsemple started last summer to crowdfund artist grants at a time when many were taking to the streets to protest police brutality and anti-Black racism following the police murder of unarmed Minneapolis man George Floyd.
The campaign raised more than $15,000, which he split between five applicants from across the country. Three of the grantees are featured in Spaced.
“We knew a lot of Black artists would be extremely hard hit by the pandemic so we wanted to do something for them,” he says. “From there, we wanted to give the project some continuity. How do we help these artists get to a bigger platform?”
That’s how Spaced was born. The five artists featured in the exhibition are Toronto’s Jorian Charlton (recently named one of our 10 local artists to watch); Montreal-born Jessie Emilie; Toronto’s Othello Grey, the creator director for clothing store Nomad; Montreal’s Mallory Lowe and Curtiss Randolph, also from Toronto.
Each of their photos reflect on the past 16 to 18 months of the pandemic. And while the world experienced collective trauma, Bobbsemple said the pieces in the show ultimately feel hopeful.
Lowe’s photograph, which is on the wall of rehab centre OCR at 145 Ossington, depicts two people embracing in muddy waters.
“The Black Lives Matter movement made many non-Black folks take notice of Black folks like they never have had to before, and in that photo you’re forced to take stock of the essence of their Blackness.”
Further north, Grey’s two portraits on the side of West Neighbourhood House (248 Ossington), a social service non-profit at the corner of Dundas West, evoke longing and loneliness. Bobbsemple felt the large brick walls had a desolate feel that gave the work necessary room to breathe.
“The mood and the feel of that location complemented his photos very well,” he says. “Blowing them up on a grand scale looks amazing at that site.”
Other artworks are on the side of clothing shop Permission (127 Ossington), cigar distributor House of Horvath (77 Ossington) and at 1082 Queen West.
Prior to the pandemic, Banded Purple primarily focused on arts and culture events. Bobbsemple expects more of his focus will shift to outdoor art for reasons that are both practical but also necessary given how much time people have been spending inside. He says public art adds a dynamism to city streets that Toronto needs more of.
“If I came out of my house on Monday and there was nothing there, and then on Tuesday there was this huge mural, I just think that’s going to alter my day in a positive way,” he says. “Just getting people outside and doing something engaging hopefully provides a bit of inspiration.”
Visit @bandedpurple on Instagram for a map of the artworks. Spaced runs through September 24.