Community arts project takes over vacant lot

Beforehand, it was an Esso station, and then it was a Shell station. By 2002, the tanks, pumps and buildings were gone and the quite ample site on the southeast corner of Sherbourne and Gerrard streets became a vacant lot, a status it has proudly defended to this day. At some point an environmental cleanup was done and it became a somewhat better groomed and healthier vacant lot. Now it is a streetscape arts site on its way to becoming a medium-rise rental complex.

From time to time rumours would swirl through the lower reaches of Cabbagetown that an edifice was to be built there. The rumours were usually horrific: 70 storeys, or 90. None ever came close to fruition.

In June of this year, word came to Danny Brown and his partner Spencer Sawyer of 321 Sherbourne St. that there was indeed planning in the works for a modest 13-storey (43 metre) rental building of 94 units with 43 underground parking spaces and 96 street-level bicycle spaces. The proposal is being put forward by rental developer Oben Flats partners Max Koerner and Julian Battiston. Oben Flats specializes mainly in high-end rentals, with a project under way at 1075 Queen E. in Leslieville and another two at St. Clair and Bathurst and along Eglinton W.

The application to build the rental building is before council but is not yet scheduled to be heard. In the meantime, there is this vacant lot.

Brown, who is a designer with Urban Strategies Inc., and Sawyer decided that something better could be done with it that would bring a little life to the corner while the process was under way. He put together a “guerilla beautification event” on the site as part of Evergreen Canada and United Way Toronto’s 100in1Day event.

Oben Flats heard of it and approached Brown to do something a little more ambitious. He approached the award-winning STEPS Initiative—PATCH (Public Art on Construction Hoardings) which has been around for about two years and installs permanent and temporary art in underused spaces such as construction sites with the aim of beautifying the streetscape while enabling emerging artists to exhibit in the public realm.

“Max discovered Danny,” says Battiston. “We were trying to find a way to beautify the site and we found PATCH, who were aware of Danny, and we went from there.”

A mural, already near completion, is being hung on the exterior of the surrounding chain-link fence in the last week of September and from then until construction begins the site will be a venue for occasional community arts events. Nick Sweetman is the primary designer; he has worked with PATCH for a long time on many projects around the city. He and a few other artists (PATCH has a roster of over 100) were busy completing the mural sections as two trucks on-site dispensed free ice cream and gourmet sandwiches.

“We saw a great opportunity with PATCH,” says STEPS (Sustainable Thinking and Expressions on Public Space) coordinator Anjeli Solanki, “with so much construction activity happening in the city. It’s a great way to add public art to the streets of Toronto.”
Solanki expects the installation to have a lifespan of over a year based on experience around the city.

Posted On: October 01, 2015