(Photo: “green monster” A wall along Calle 7 outside La Candelaria in Bogota, Colombia. Credit: Aziza Mohammed)

The spaces and places that ‘host’ the performances are transformed, as are all the artists and audiences who are part of that experience.

Everywhere around us, conversations are happening about the ways the arts sector is changing: At the bar after a show, at community events, at industry meet-ups, and even at policy discussions. One such conversation is coming soon to Salon West, a series of curated conversations led by “thoughtful individuals from different sectors to discuss the arts and culture scene that makes our city a great place to be”.

Related Blog Post: Q&A with Clay and Paper Theatre’s David Anderson

The September 26, 6pm event at the Heliconian Hall (35 Hazelton Ave.) is entitled “Toronto The Bad, The Good and the Ugly: The Art of Public Space.” It is a call for all of us to develop a more thoughtful response and understanding of public spaces, and our role in shaping it.

The Salon will feature three guest speakers: Javid Jah (Graffiti Artist/Architect), Elle Alconcel (Curator from Daniels Spectrum) and Ashley McKenzie-Barnes (MANIFESTO! Visual Arts Director).

Aziza_MohammedSalon West Founder and Director Aziza Mohammed identifies herself firstly as a citizen, secondly as a policy analyst, but always a visual artist at heart. Her travels around the world along with her uniquely blended perspective has led to a deep appreciation of what beautiful and vibrant public spaces can do for a city.

“Aesthetics make a city livable. They attracts tourists and stimulate business,” says Mohammed. “The way our city looks reflects history and identity. It’s the way to share the city’s future while preserving the past.”

Her travels in Columbia and Europe in particular introduced her to a variety of ways that public spaces are designed and used. From the vibrant graffiti in Bogota to the public squares in Europe, she observes how these spaces strengthen local communities, improve the quality of life, and allow aesthetic experiences to take place in the commons.

By contrast, the public space in Toronto does not reflect the city that she knows. A multicultural metropolitan, the priority the city places on giving heritage designations of mark as worthy of preserving are dominantly those of the Victorian era does not match her experiences.

“Our architectural richness is under threat. There are uniquely Canadian Parliamentary masonry styles, landmarks of exceptional neo-gothic architecture and even a hand-carved Hindu temple. Why privilege Toronto’s Victorian era and risk everything else?”

(birds)  Found in a small square in La Candelaria, Bogota, Colombia. Credit: Aziza Mohammed

(birds) Found in a small square in La Candelaria, Bogota, Colombia. Credit: Aziza Mohammed

The public space is a context that is not often discussed or addressed in the performing arts; it is almost a sub-category, produced by artists who choose the world as their stage, foregoing the artificially perfected environments that both empower and limit the artists.

We in Toronto are fortunate to have a small but very active contingent of artists and groups who have recognized the artistic possibilities that can only be realized in public spaces.

Clay and Paper Theatre has been bringing oversized puppetry works into public spaces for 20 years, regularly tackling social and political topics; Dance company Coleman and Lemieux has developed large-scale works intended for specific locations that are often rural or remote for the last 10 years. Humber River Shakespeare has also been using the public space around the river and surrounding communities since 2008.

There are also newcomers to watch out for, such as Jacob Niedzwiecki’s Jacquires and his use of mobile technology to create site-specific immersive dance experiences for an intimate group of audiences. The Bicycle Opera project tours as a group of cycling divas, performing operatic excerpts by contemporary Canadian composers to towns in south-western Ontario with great success over the last few summers.

The spaces and places that ‘host’ the performances are transformed, as are all the artists and audiences who are part of that experience. The impact is beyond an aesthetic experience or an exercise in community building; in the age of digital and electronic entertainment, it’s an act of reclaiming our public space by defining it for ourselves.

Architecture can oppress or liberate, public spaces articulate our shared vision or lack thereof. Come and join this conversation whether you are just beginning to consider this issue, or have been among its champions. Either way, the Salon West format is designed to catalyze real and impactful change, and that only happens when all the stakeholders are sitting at the same table.

salonwest_posters_Sept_2014This Salon West event is a joint initiative and part of BeMused Network’s roundtable events. Members and affiliates of BeMused Network get an exclusive discount at this ticketed event.

Click here to RSVP.