On October 21st 2012, at 5:00, several members from the “Thorncliffe Youth Reclamation Project” were lept over the rusty old fences along Thorncliffe Park, and carefully placing the finishing touches onto their extraordinary urban art project. But this wasn’t an ordinary assignment. This was the result of an initiative taken to transform that community into a more vivacious area. Masooma Shah, from TYRP explains to us how this “Fence plan” came into life.
During January 2012, some young, high-spirited, and artistic students decided to form a group which later evolved into a small organization aspiring to beautify public spaces. They started by organizing workshops talking to young people about the power of art. Meanwhile, they spent chilly days and nights at Tim Hortons cafes trying to come up with a proposal to impress ArtReach Toronto, a program that supports art initiatives for under-served areas. Masooma stated that “before we started this project we were basically thinking of doing something like 3-D paintings on the road”. After countless meetings, in-depth discussions, and awaited phone calls, ArtReach Toronto gave them a grant to go forward with the idea of decorating the fences that stand by the walkway to the East York Town Center building.
As marvellous as the project is, it is the youth’s role that should really appreciated. The vision and execution for this design was all in their eyes. “Basically, it was our project. WE had to come up with an idea for the project in order to receive a grant.” said Zarnab Afzal, another member from the Thorncliffe Youth Reclamation Project. You can see that the word ‘we’ is emphasized to show how hard working and united these associates are. It was these 15-20 students that had to sacrifice so many after school hours in order to bring this mission to life. “We were working till 8:00 or sometimes 8:30” said Zarnab, with an exhausted voice. However, they couldn’t do it alone as they needed the help of professional artists from “The STEPS Initiative”, a group who promotes the idea of the use of art for public spaces.
The STEPS initiative volunteers wanted a community art project. It was intended to outreach to the neighbourhood. There were many different designs, like lines or trees. The art, made of acrylic disks, wood, or steel were creatively arranged in patterns, interesting shapes, and letters. “We tried to fill the whole fence,” said one volunteer. All the materials were brand new, although the volunteers are considering using recycled materials for their next idea. The project reflects light with colour, to amplify the little light in the pathway. STEPS told us that the purpose of this project was to make people come out of their homes more to interact and engage in the community.
A number of light bulbs in the art were a personal message from the volunteers to the government. The government restricted the volunteers from building lights, because “it’s our [the government’s] job,” they said; but the volunteers feel that light is essential to making the pathway safer and more attractive. The government has also prevented them from putting benches in the pathway, because they needed snow tractors to be able to plow through the snow in the winter.
Thus far, it’s been a long journey, but they’ve gotten good feedback already. For the future, the Thorncliffe Youth Reclamation Project is planning to apply for another grant for more art. Some ideas were mirrors to reflect more light, or maybe even 3D artwork. Sarah, the leader of this project, told us that she wanted to make these 3D sculptures functional, and integrate the engineering skills she developed in university and her love of art to make this happen. They’ve also planned performances, possibly with singers or other forms of entertainment. “It’s really fun,” they told us, “Almost like a community job.” They hope to reach even more people through word-of-mouth, and maybe even bigger sources, like their CBC interview, which happened the other day. The parts they found most enjoyable were putting up the art, climbing fences, and most of all, seeing their hard work. The STEPS initiative said they felt like they’d achieved their objective, and they hope the art will be up for at least another 5 years. “We want people to hear about it. We want people to support us and take good care of this. We want smiles.”
You can join in too by contacting them through telephone or email. There are also multiple flyers around the school. You can find out how you can help by visiting their website at http://www.stepsinitiative.com/home.
By staff writers Mara Gagiu and Lily Song