Where have all the artists gone?

 A guest considers artwork at the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series finale

A guest considers artwork at the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series finale

Where have all the artists gone? It’s an important question for Toronto, which has always considered itself a creative hub. As rents rise and glass towers pop up like dominoes, artists are pushed farther and farther towards the city’s outskirts. The problem is, you can only push people – even wildly passionate artists – so far before they simply give up.

The too-often monstrous displays condos erect in the place of actual creative communities simply don’t make up for what we’ve lost. By enticing developers to put up public art in exchange for perks like being able to build taller buildings, the city gives creative expression in communal spaces over to a select group of elite, wealthy men. (I’ve checked, and the CEOs of at least the top 10 condo development companies in Toronto are men). While CEOs often hire art consultants, the decision ultimately comes from the top.

These men may or may not have a background in the arts or any inclination to support creatives. They may or may not have taste. What they do have is the power to spend millions of dollars shaping the art Torontonians see every day.

By their very nature, these large, permanent and expensive sculptures are almost never designed by the type of diverse, emerging artists that gave the neighbourhoods these condos now call home ‘their cool.’ The type the can no longer afford to live or work there.

If you don’t believe local artists have a great impact on a city, just look at the communities they’ve heavily shaped over Toronto’s history: Yorkville, Queen and Spadina, Parkdale.

Where are they now? Scattered; maybe in Hamilton (although outside feel-good media narratives about the region’s new art hub, I’ve yet to know a single person go explore the supposedly booming scene.) While surely there are some great artists in Hamilton, the city is just far enough away we can happily imagine a thriving artist community lives and works there without really having to confront the realities of the situation.

Also: Hamilton is not Toronto. Do we really want our historically vibrant artscape outsourced to another municipality?

 Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series regional winner Rei Misiri

Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series regional winner Rei Misiri

I found some artists when I attended the regional finale of Bombay Sapphire’s Artisan Series competition for emerging artists. Their work was diverse in medium, tone, message and maturity. Gin cocktails flowed and ultimately multidisciplinary artist Rei Misiri was crowned regional winner by a panel of judges that included Juno Award winner Lights. Misiri will represent Toronto at the North American grande finale event in Miami during Art Basel, where his work will be on display at SCOPE Miami Beach alongside 13 other finalists. With any luck we'll see a repeat of last year, when Vancouver's Vanessa Lam became the competition's first Canadian winner.

Having attended the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series finale in the past and spoken to many homegrown finalists, I can tell you one thing 99 per cent of them have in common: they need more support.

It’s time we give back to the artists who gave so much to us. Public art should be public, supported by the city and its citizens not just private developers. As voters, we can push for change. As consumers, we can speak with our wallets. Without strong art communities, the city certainly wouldn’t be what it is today. I’d hate to see the Toronto of tomorrow if they disappear.

*All photos by Ryan Emberley

 Lights at the Artisan Series finale

Lights at the Artisan Series finale

Sabrina Maddeaux