Ecology of the Streets


The Ecology of the Streets 1970 to 2011: Mapping our Histories

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THE PARADISE MAP charts the Queen West and downtown Toronto art scene and tracks the movement of artists, studios, galleries, bars, stores, theatres –the Toronto Cultural Diaspora — over the past thirty years.

In the early 1980’s, Queen and Spadina was a neighbourhood in transition, when a critical mass of artists, musicians, performers and writers moved in. Vacated warehouses and store fronts became artist studios, rehearsal halls and galleries.

Art bars opened on Spadina, with Cabana Room and the Subway Room in the Spadina Hotel at Spadina and King Street. Soon afterward in October 1981 came the Cameron at Spadina and Queen, a seminal meeting place.

Theatre Passe Muraille, down the street from the Cameron, was creating and producing groundbreaking original Canadian theatre, enlisting the talents of the visual artists, musicians and writers from the neighbourhood. Along Queen and Spadina, ‘parallel galleries’, parallel to the commercial galleries that is, were developed by artists to take control of aesthetic and political content, and showcase work that was not commercial and not wanted by commercial galleries. The model was so successful, it continues to this day in the form of artist run spaces – Mercer Union, A Space, YYZ, Art Metropole, WARC and numerous new exhibition and performance spaces.

The untimely deaths of artists Tim Jocelyn, and Robin Masyk (Handsome Ned) in 1987, two of the most gifted artists to come out of the Queen West art scene, in many ways marked the end of the first wave of Queen Street West. Mythologies were in the making, the beer flowed and the neighbourhood became overnight an art’s tourist destination. Gentrification followed, pushing artists westward seeking less expensive rents in Parkdale. The second wave ends with the naming of the Gallery District and the Gladstone Hotel as a new kind of Cameron for a new era. Gentrification is once again dispersing the scene, and many diverse scenes are emerging throughout Toronto.

Social maps illustrate the lineages of collaborative works and projects, and look for the connections between the present and past generations of artists. The maps will discover influences and resonances from previous generations, sometimes transformed and necessarily destroyed to challenge previous aesthetic assumptions.

Art is a creature of its time and is a product of its political and economic landscape. The arts as industry and art institutions have become increasingly integrated into a corporate model. What the public finally sees is often so mediated by economics that it only supports the dominant culture of the market place, not the ecology of the streets – the studios, artist run galleries and smaller venues.

Tragedy of Manners by Donna Lypchuk, 1987. Commissioned by Theatre Passe Muraille, Artistic Director Clarke Rogers.
Photo credit: Susan Ross