Making With Place


Feature by Phyllis Novak, Artistic Director, SKETCH


“More Public Art Please, More Walls where these Words can Live”

– Susie Mensah, Invitation, 2020, mural and spoken word artist, and community worker

In 2020 a group of young artists undertook a research project that explored artistic practice and production in connection with place. Place was revealed as complex and multi-dimensional, from the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic lockdown, to police brutality and systemic anti-Black racism, to internal landscapes of isolation, rage, fear and exhaustion, to declarations of injustice, to mutual aid projects in community care, and to regenerative relationships with the natural world.

Making with Place (MWP) researchers urged that we “make art that pertains to our lives in the world”, that we declare injustice with art, particularly public art, and that we tell and retell stories of past and present that contest colonialism and all its boundaries in order to “subvert research, create culture and influence change”. – Ammarah Syed, MWP artist-researcher

The desires and intentions that surfaced repeatedly were caring and ethical engagement with oneself, community and land; anti-individualism in favour of developing and sustaining collective care that moves us sustainably beyond capitalism. There were calls to accountability of charities, including SKETCH itself, and academic institutions to change oppressive language and practice, and to support collaborative research to create lasting change.

“Communities have always known what to do to help themselves. They just need access to tools and resources.” – Syed


Invitation (fka No Nos Toquen, “Don’t Touch Us”) mural and text installation in Queen West, Toronto 2020 by Jess De Vitt and Susie Mensah

Art to Reimagine, Art to Resist

MWP highlighted art as resistance and knowledge making, with place, following or creating narratives (past and present) in collaborative learning, and as powerful tools to (re)map ideas and experiences into public space.

“In order to move our culture forward, revolutionaries have had to speak and plan from the unseen order inside them.” – Glennon Doyle, Untamed (The Dial Press, New York, 2020)

Thousands of artists engaging with SKETCH over the years have expressed unique perspectives and discontent with the way things are. They express intersecting visions of accountability to address injustice, and articulate ideas and practices that inspire ways to move forward in the world. Discontent is hopeful. It exposes an unsettled imagination. Imagination where memory, experience, curiosity, senses, and creativity collide and intermingle. It has limitless capacity and incessant urging to work and rework constantly in response to a collective knowing, it seems, that things can be different.

In a time of recovery, rage and revision, it’s critical to platform imaginative new visions with communities with whom SKETCH has been in artistic collaboration with over its near-quarter century, to offer leadership and guidance to the change we all seek.

“Public art is like political art, because it is in the face of the people.” – Ayrah Taerb, Creator of Indica; Omega

Like pro-test, public art puts forward ideas to be witnessed and to be interacted with. They are like energetic cultural texts placed in and amongst communities – everybody has the choice to read them in their own way. They don’t have to be flashy, monumental, permanent, or massive, to have a deep effect. They can suggest in subtle or overt ways to re/consider space and place, and a re-noticing of human relationships, and human with more-than-human relationships, with ideas about how we can reorganize and strategize new ways of being together.

Image by Xeynamay Gezahagn

The Year of Public Art 2021-2022

The City of Toronto will launch its new 10-year public art strategy on September 22. This is an unparalleled moment for young artists, particularly from 2SQTBIPOC communities navigating precarity or marginalization, to be recognized for the critical culture-makers that they are and always have been. We believe it’s vital that their expressions, ideas and artistry reach wider audiences. Part of our role is to scale that reach.

To that end we have been co-designing with artists, a set of public projects that build on the Making with Place research project. They focus on surfacing creativity, story, knowledge and leadership that typically goes unnoticed, is silenced or appropriated. They call out (or in) for engagement, recognition, curiosity and invention. They are temporary works that are not passive. They offer different perspectives, work with tensions, and invite new imaginings and co-creation. They require it, actually.

“repositioning those with lived experience as the knowledge keepers and wisdom leaders who create radical moves, inventing spaces of radical openness.” – bell hooks, “Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness” (Framework, 1989).

hooks emphasizes that marginality be recognized “as a site of radical possibility, a space of resistance…a central location for the production of a counter hegemonic discourse found not only in words but in habits of being and the way one lives.”(ibid).

We celebrate the visions and counter narratives of young 2SQTBIPOC artists, and of artists who have been part of the homeless community. We need to know and remember their stories, hidden or suppressed over history, gather around these works, take them and be in creative dialogue with one another about them, so we can move forward in ways in which “no one is disposable.” – The Good Guise, My Public Living Room

Follow these stories and become part of sharing them. @sketchpublicart.

Considering the complexities of place, artists animate, amplify and archive, suppressed, hidden or silenced environmental and social histories, to innovate models of care and community.

Thoughtful community-engaged design processes have been in motion since January to create 4 immersive installations for launch October – November, 2021 with iterations in the spring of 2022, as part of ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021-2022.

Each work will have in person (as public health allows) and online activations, with podcasts, artist talks, workshops and performance.

1. Indica; Omega

Artist Ayrah Taerb and creative team: Xeynamay Gezahegn, Shaniqua Roberts, and CHMST / Dantoni Mortimore open our series with a performance installation at The Bentway and companion release of a concept album exploring intersecting concepts of Black Creativity, Black Marginalization, Black Harm Reduction, and Black Mental Health. Indica; Omega provides the audience with a window into the mind of a marginalized creative genius.

2. My Public Living Room

Curatorial team, The Good Guise: Julian Diego, Balu, Jah Grey, Mobólúwajídìde Joseph, and Javier Davila, conceptualize and design with community, pods of care, vulnerability, and accountability as radically loving alternatives to patriarchy and patriarchal masculinity. With two installations, emphasizing CARE (Eglinton Gilbert Parkette in October) and ACCOUNTABILITY (Trinity in the Square in November), My Public Living Room will iterate The Guise Guide for racialized men to lead in the exploration and creation of intimate and supportive spaces for and by racialized men, in partnership with Rittenhouse and Across Boundaries.

3. Queering Place

Creative leads, Naty Tremblay and Ty Sloane, Artists-in-residence: Madeleine Lychek, Em Dial, Bert Whitecrow, Zephyr McKenna, Pogi The Artist and The Noise Witch, Elder and Mentor, Blu Waters and Curatorial Mentor, Lisa Myers collaborate with more-than-human elements to create space for artful inQueery & queer convenings that radiate around a medicine wheel garden. Honouring the cardinal directions, natural elements & our wild relatives, this installation amplifies the indigi-queer Force Field exhibition curated by Logan MacDonald for Contact Festival at the Garrison Commons of Fort York. Queering Place will activate garden sculptures in October asking and animating, What does ‘queering place’ look like?

4. Reconstructions of Home

Creative Leads Sue Cohen, Jess De Vitt, and Olympia Trypis work in a Think Tank of artists and wellness community developers situated locally and across the country, including Emmet Reed, Lisa Petrunia, Verity Eaton, and Amelia Merhar.

Artist Ryan Weaver will create a soundscape of stories from homeless community members to bring into view the hidden histories of Toronto’s homeless culture. This multi-sited installation frames the ongoing conflict between city development and displacements of these communities while illuminating their creativity and ingenuity.

Its first of several installations, Unbroken Telephone, launches at The Bentway in November with a ceremonial procession honouring lives lost to the Opioid crisis and other challenges of homelessness. The next set of installations will launch in the spring under the Gardiner Expressway in an audio walking tour, in homage to those who have made community, culture, passage and shelter under its infrastructure. Reconstructions of Home proposes to end the stigma associated with homelessness and to include those living houseless as part of community.


Throughout our public art conceptualizing and design, we have been energized by our partnerships. Thank you to the team at The Bentway for supporting our ideas and process. We see The Bentway itself as a site inspired by the creative possibilities first tried by those boldly gathering, holding events and making neighbourhood in between the bents. We hope our projects honour that creativity.

Thank you to the team at Fort York and to curator Logan MacDonald with ForceField and the team at Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival. Great thanks also to Across Boundaries, Rittenhouse, Metropolitan United Church and Trinity-in-the-Square for partnering with us to etch visions into reality. Lastly, we are deeply grateful for the grounding and inspiring curatorial mentorship and friendship to SKETCH artists offered to us by Lisa Myers.

Follow these projects @sketchpublicart and check our site for updates.