Guerrilla art improvement, Liberty and Fraser
Instead of simply basking in its warm reception, the BENCHmark Project, a guerrilla art improvement plan for street benches that took root in Liberty Village late last summer, is hoping to extend its colourful seating rearrangement to the Beaches, Parkdale, Yorkville and Little Italy.
Unlike the eyesore Lastman-era moose still uselessly lingering on some sidewalks, these art installations are actually practical.
Weary travellers have a place to rest their bones, artists get a free "canvas" in a year-round outdoor gallery, and the community is enhanced by original artistic works. Among them, a map interpretation of the Liberty Village area by Mina Arawaka, and a Marshall McLuhan-inspired talking bench with tin-can-telephone speakers by Jessica Perlitz.
Most importantly, the seating, "provides creative space for people to congregate," explains BENCHmark program manager Jessica Tudos. "Some benches were falling over. There's so much potential in transforming those into usable cool-looking pieces."
Local Councillor Sylvia Watson certainly loves the display. "I can't think of a better way to beautify our city," she says.
The city lists the project on its Clean And Beautiful City site but can't bankroll BENCHmark's expansion effort. Watson says there are so many improvement projects tugging on the city's purse strings that the best advice is to seek private bucks.
"We have significant pressures for all kinds of initiatives, and it's my hope that there may be some corporate money out there," she says.
The absence of city money wouldn't kill the project but is "really disappointing," notes Tudos. Such infant projects tend to need early city support to get things rolling and give organizers the backing to approach other donors.
At this stage, BENCHmark is in the process of meeting with several neighbourhood BIAs. They want to adapt the project to reflect the flavours of each community, and that can be difficult when BIAs have varying priorities for streetscaping.
"It's a bit different than a new sidewalk," says Tudos. "It's creating the sense of public street art, a place to sit that beautifies the space."
The $2,500 to $3,000 it costs to rehabilitate a broken bench (of which there's no shortage) is still a modest price tag to promote a neighbourhood and reward some talented local artists.