Installation shot of Like A River, by artist Kristen McCrea. 2019. Photo Credit: Harry Cho

Installation shot of Like A River, by artist Kristen McCrea. 2019. Photo Credit: Harry Cho

The inaugural commission of Like A River by Kristen McCrea was unveiled this past week on the corner of Gerrard St E. and Carlaw Avenue in Toronto’s east end. This expansive public mural is a breath of fresh air, with its eclectic mix of patterns and flower motif that pays tribute to the neighbourhood’s multicultural roots. Seeing this project come to life, has gotten me thinking about what makes art thrive in a neighbourhood. This is increasingly an issue as we think about how cities grow and gentrify, which can lead to the displacement of people and culture that authentically reflects a neighbourhood.

Ribbon cutting celebrating the completion of the first East End Bridges to Art mural. Photo credit: Harry Choi

Ribbon cutting celebrating the completion of the first East End Bridges to Art mural. Photo credit: Harry Choi

This past year Bespoke Collective worked with Street Art Toronto (StART) and public art planner Rebecca Carbin on the East End Bridges to Art project initiated by Councillor Paula Fletcher. We were tasked with leading a public engagement process that defined a community-led vision for nine murals to be painted along underpasses in the east end. It is a beautiful project that transforms a series of once neglected underpasses into large-scale unexpected art moments.

In our humble opinion, public art needs to do more than beautify a place. Murray Whyte (former Globe and Mail art critic) said it best in the Boston Globe this past week: “In principle, public art should have the public good in mind. It should have time, place, and circumstance close at heart. It should say something about the ground on which it stands and the people forced to negotiate it.” I think these words resonate in Toronto, a city made up of distinct neighbourhoods that have been shaped by a kaleidoscope of stories, histories, cultures, hopes, and also fraught with the challenges of living in a growing city. A public art commission — if done well — can be a point of pride and reveal why we call a place home.

Installation shot of Like A River, by artist Kristen McCrea. 2019. Photo Credit: Harry Choi.

Installation shot of Like A River, by artist Kristen McCrea. 2019. Photo Credit: Harry Choi.

While I got my start working in a major museum that was focused on telling a story about the world’s “greatest” artists and artworks, I am now much more interested in how art can be grown from “the ground on which it stands.” This project has led me to ask: how do we distill the soul of a place and share it back to our future selves and to future generations? I think we always need to start from a place of deep listening and creating space for meaningful conversations.

I will not walk you through the depths of our community engagement process, except to say that it was hardworking and robust. What is more interesting to share is that we deliberately designed visioning workshops that bite off far more than they could chew. We asked the community big philosophical questions around how one defines the character of place and about how the art can navigate a public space that lives across the past, present and future. In the sessions we also explored the raw ingredients of meaning making — the present-day issues we face, the memories we cherish, the histories we celebrate, what we avoid and don’t speak of, as well as the qualities that one associates with strong community belonging.

Community workshop with Lily Potinger from The Real Jerk sharing her story about the neighbourhood, 2018

Community workshop with Lily Potinger from The Real Jerk sharing her story about the neighbourhood, 2018

The community members who participated in our work sessions rose to the occasion. They responded with warmth, openness and intelligence. Before we had any conversations about what type of artist or artworks should be selected, we dove deep into the culture of the neighbourhoods we were looking to stitch together. Maybe, public art shouldn’t be thought of as a magnet that draws people to a place. Instead we should start with tapping into the community voices who can guide us towards the richest starting point for artistic inspiration. I truly believe that public art is at its best when the specificity of a space, the perspectives of the community and the artist’s vision all come together to make a third thing. As our city changes and grows, we have a responsibility to make sure that the complexity of our cultural roots act as a foundation for the future.

By: Christina Bagatavicius

Huge thanks to everyone who made this project happen: StART (StreetARToronto) led by Carolyn Taylor, Councillor Paula Fletcher and her office, Kristen McCrea and her team as well as our amazing co-collaborators in the visioning work and jury process — Rebecca Carbin (ART + PUBLIC Untd), Kim Wheatley and Harry Choi. Big thanks to The Real Jerk and Jimmy Simpson for providing us with such welcoming community spaces. Lots of love to the community members, jurors and local storytellers who generously welcomed us into their neighbourhoods. Lastly, a heartfelt thanks to my incredibly hardworking team at Bespoke Collective: Sagan MacIsaac and Alia Rasul.

Bespoke is hiring an office coordinator!

December 5 2017

Office Coordinator Position Opening
We are looking for someone who lives to make the world an organized place, yet is comfortable working in highly creative, collaborative and fast-paced office environment.

About the role:
We are looking for an experienced and highly organized office coordinator to join our team! 
They will work collaboratively with our small and hardworking team to develop and implement internal organizational systems, support in the setup and scheduling of complex projects as well as take on light bookkeeping and administrative support. 

We are looking for a self-starter who is highly organized and able to work independently. Ideally this would be person with a minimum of 3 years of experience under their belt. We are looking for someone with a general BA or degree related to Arts Management, Curatorial Studies, Administration, Communications.

Role Responsibilities:

Operations, Coordination & Administration
Provides business administrative duties to ensure office processes run smoothly.
Responsible for monthly scheduling workflow using project management tools such as Smartsheet, Trello, Hours Tracking
Maintains office efficiency by planning and implementing office systems, layouts, etc.
Responsible for project calendars, scheduling meetings with clients coordinating schedules
Manages documentation, including project scoping documents, contracts, etc.
Organizes, systematizes and archives internal projects
Keeps track and issues contracts for subcontractors and clients
Support the coordination needs of small and large projects
Responds to email inquiries
Runs errands--such as picking up workshop materials, ordering office supplies, mailing documentation, booking travel
Orders office supplies

Billing and bookkeeping duties, including resolving billing questions and managing invoices
Prepare monthly invoicing
Track subcontractor hours and expenses
Working with our accountant to manage expenses, subcontractor payouts, etc 

Employee status: This is a part time position at 3 days per week starting on a 3 month trial period. This has the capacity to become a full-time contract, depending on the trial. 

Application deadline: December 14, 2017

Please email cover letter and comprehensive Curriculum Vitae with subject line ‘Office Coordinator Position’ to:  
Sagan MacIsaac
Cultural Strategist, Bespoke Cultural Collective
1179 King St W St 15 Toronto, ON M6K 3C5

Bespoke Cultural Collective is an equal opportunity employer. We encourage applications from Black, Indigenous and People of Colour communities, as well as LGBTQQIP2SA-identified persons. Thanks to all applicants for their interest in the position. Only those short-listed will be contacted.

About us:
Bespoke Cultural Collective is a forward-looking creative consultancy that is committed to re-defining how culture and civic life can bring people together in meaningful ways. Our expertise lies at the intersection of communications, strategic planning, public engagement and cultural programming. While many of our clients come from the arts, we are increasingly working with cities, and not-for-profits on community building initiatives that aim to make ambitious and lasting positive change.

Bespoke is a small consultancy that is uncompromising about getting things done to the highest standard. We are hardworking and love to think through problems in a holistic way. We pride ourselves on an iterative and open creative process with our clients; leading to highly focused goals and actionable outcomes.

We are a nimble business with an outstanding network of independent creative collaborators who have an impressive breadth of expertise. We are also lucky enough to work with some incredible clients that have included: The Bentway, SAIC (The School of the Art Institute of Chicago), the Fogo Island Inn, the Toronto Biennial of Art, Teach for America, The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, Waterfront Toronto,  the MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), Orchestras Canada, Canadian Stage, the Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts, Bruce Mau Design and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. 

Christina Bagatavicius’ Work with the MCA comes to Fruition

A rendering of the Commons, a hybrid lounge-workshop-performance space, which is being designed for the museum by the Mexico City design team Pedro y Juana, c/o New York Times.

A rendering of the Commons, a hybrid lounge-workshop-performance space, which is being designed for the museum by the Mexico City design team Pedro y Juana, c/o New York Times.

Over the last few years, Bespoke has had the opportunity to work with the MCA in Chicago  - a truly risk-taking and civically engaged contemporary art gallery. 

We are proud to have played a part in the planning for their new gathering place that is free to the public. In the words of the Director, Madeleine Grynsztejn, "Audiences today want a space where they can come together and interact. We are finding that people are really hungry for civil and civic dialogue - now more so than ever."

Working in close collaboration with their senior leadership team, Bespoke explored the possibilities for this audience engagement zone. Christina Bagatavicius facilitated an intensive design charrette that brought a mix of staff and cultural leaders together to explore potential futures for the vision and arrive at an exciting way forward.

For more information read the New York Times coverage of the project.


Sabrina Richard's Research on Experimental Urban Installations is published by Routledge

This long awaited feature of the Integral Urban House and the Energy Pavilion is now available in Healing Spaces, Modern Architecture, and the Body (2016) published by Routledge.  Edited by Professors Sarah Shrank and Didem Ekici, Healing Spaces brings together cutting-edge scholarship examining the myriad ways that architects, urban planners, medical practitioners, and everyday people have applied modern ideas about health and the body to the spaces of the city.

Sabrina's chapter, titled "Inputs, Outputs, Flows: The Bio-Architecture of Whole Systems Design, the Energy Pavilion and the Integral Urban House",  charts the cultural history of architecture as a ‘biotechnology’ operating on, protecting, and extending the notion of the human body in the ecological architecture of the 1970s.