Toronto: The Public Art Gallery

Encounter. William McElcheran. Commerce Court.

For the thousands of people that work in downtown Toronto, the urban landscape comprises of towers, concrete, stores, and cars. But what is most often an overlooked feature of the cityscape is the high calibre of public art on display amongst the towers, and the concrete, and the stores. Indeed, some of Toronto’s best sculptural art is found throughout the city, acting as the artistic guardian of buildings and the namesake of parks. Although the architecture of the city’s buildings itself is art and deserves to be admired in its own right, it often receives more attention than the smaller examples found on its doorsteps.

Below is arguably the most comprehensive visual representation of the outdoor public art on display in the downtown core, showing over 150 significant public art installations in the loosely-defined downtown core. It is evident to see the main drivers of the installation of such works: the University of Toronto, the Ontario Parliament, office buildings, and of growing importance, condominiums. The number of sculptures and artwork installed for the public realm in the last few years has mainly been dominated by developers fulfilling their recommendation by the City to commission artwork valued at a minimum of one per cent of the total construction costs. This initiative, titled the Percent for Public Art Program, has seen the installation of such notable works as the massive public art displays at CityPlace and the multi-million dollar Rising sculpture that scales the new Shangri La.

Public Art Displays in TorontoFollowing this pattern, it is interesting to note almost all new public art is being brought about by the condo boom, and is bringing high-calibre works once relegated as a responsibility of universities and governments to the once vacant swaths of land south of the Gardiner. On its own, the Percent for Public Art Program has meant the growing sophistication of Toronto’s built form and civic benefits. On a macro level however, it represents the increasing role developers are playing in the overall development of the city.

Look out for an upcoming Guide to Toronto’s Public Art, that I will be releasing this summer that will highlight the top examples of Toronto’s art organized by neighbourhood. Below are my personal top ten must-see exhibits of public art found scattered throughout the downtown core. The next time you are walking to a meeting or to work, focus less on the cars and the concrete, and try to recognize the fantastic amount of art that’s on display all around you.

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