No Art = No City

No Art = No City is the title of an exhibition catalog I purchased last year. I display its red spine proudly and place the book in a prominent location visible to guests. To me, everyone who sees the words art and city beside each other will have the same gut reaction I do… deep breathing, and nervous excitement…however it’s probably more likely they won’t even notice the perfectly selected title I have in my library.

I discovered No Art = No City when doing an online search hoping to find a title that would justify my transition from the world of art to a return to student life. The title jumped at me, so precisely summing up all aspirations I have ever had to meld these two worlds together.

As an art school graduate, a former community gallery coordinator, and a former graphic designer, I like to believe that I know art and I speak art language. I know I have benefited from participation in arts programming, and that I would likely be lost without these experiences. I truly believe my involvement in the arts has shaped where I am today – a student in city planning. I am fascinated by all things urban and creative: the people in our city who create art and what their art creates for our city. I believe art serves a larger function, summed up so perfectly in the title of this exhibition catalog. For me, no art really means no city.

Fast forward to fall 2009 when I received an email newsfeed from a friend who knows I like art, but isn’t all that familiar with art herself. A huge grin took over my face upon reading the words Neighbourhood Arts Network. Quickly other phrases popped out of my computer screen; community engaged… arts hubs, and my favorite…the transformative power of art. This email spoke of projects going on all over Toronto, and it was something I wanted to know more about.

Three months later, and here I am blogging from a desk at the Toronto Arts Foundation’s Neighbourhood Arts Network, truly excited to be part of a project that (I feel) is so important to Toronto. In cities, there are many ways to encourage positive development, and community engaged art making is one tool that can be used to achieve larger social goals. While teaching a creative skill to those who partake, community art empowers, builds confidence, breaks down barriers, and opens lines of communication. These programs operate out of what some may consider obscure locations, the places in our city not typically associated with art making. This challenge allows practitioners to work within spaces, and among groups of people who may not otherwise have access to art. Not easily measured, and often without much attention (or funding), the results of such activities are numerous and impact many.

This blog will be a place to explore all of these ideas, and highlight art making that engages with Toronto’s neighbourhoods, and residents. It will be a place to profile specific initiatives, and draw attention to the goals, outcomes, challenges and successes associated with community arts. Among my many curiosities, I am interested in creative community development, public art, relationships between community art and public health, collaborations with unlikely partners, community interventions based on random chance and play, and the buildings that give these projects a home.

Looking forward to diving in deeper,
Robyn Shyllit

Robyn Shyllit is a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and a student in the Cities Centre Community Development Program at the University of Toronto completing a Masters in Planning.

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