For Lindsay Hill, it was rewarding to realize that all those years she spent having fun and hanging out with friends in Toronto’s Queen Street West neighbourhood qualified as research. Last year, the 27-year-old illustrator was commissioned to create a 45-metre mural to cover the hoarding at a new Allied retail and commercial development at the corner of Queen and Peter streets. “I called it Comm(UNITY),” she says, “because I knew that I wanted to capture the vibrancy and rhythm of this neighbourhood—what it was before the pandemic and what it will be again.”
Hill connected with Allied through STEPS (Sustainable Thinking and Expression on Public Space), an award-winning social enterprise that pairs local artistic talent with property developers. The model is a winwin- win: For a developer like Allied, it’s a way to contribute positively to the public realm while fulfilling the municipal bylaw that requires 50 percent of hoarding space to feature community artwork; for artists like Hill, it’s a huge platform for their talent (both literally and figuratively); and for everyone else, it means that a downtown core overrun by construction sites can be eye-catching rather than an eyesore.
Since launching in 2011, STEPS has produced approximately 300 public art installations. Its roster includes about 150 artists, with a focus on racialized and marginalized talent. “Our goal is to ensure that talented, creative people are connected with opportunities,” says Praneti Kulkarni, STEPS’ agency manager. Hill was one of three potential collaborators suggested to Allied. “I think they liked that my previous work has a very strong sense of place, which is a big part of their mission,” Hill says.
Comm(UNITY) reflects Queen Street West’s artsy hodgepodge appeal, featuring kids, coffee sippers, commuters and, of course, construction workers. Hill also included a few of the neighbourhood’s four-legged residents. “If you know Queen West, you know that squirrels are celebrities here, so that’s kind of a wink and a way to bring a little levity when we need it.”