Toronto’s Urban Imaginaries


Jon Johnson of First Story Toronto leads
Indigenous Roots and Routes Along the Humber River.
Image courtesy of Luis Jacob.

Throughout the 2017-2018 academic year, I had the pleasure of leading a Jackman Humanities Institute Working Group at UofT, alongside Barbara Fischer and Elizabeth Legge. The official description of the Group is up on the JHI site, but in response to questions I have had, I’ve list a more detailed description our activities here.

A series of eight meetings took place as public and invitational events working through different presentation formats, with a rotating attendance. At each meeting, core group members were complemented by invited guests including graduate students, scholars, members of community arts organizations, and major public galleries and museums.

September 19. Introductory Show-and-Tell.
Attendance 25

Presenters: Felicity Tayler outlined the goals, objectives and methods to generate interdisciplinary debate within the group over a series of eight meetings-as-events. Barbara Fisher addressed successes and “lessons learned” from the 2015 This is Paradise conference. Rosemary Donegan, Theresa Enright, Elizabeth Legge, Janine Marchessault, Scott Rayter, Dot Tuer, Rinaldo Walcott each presented physical objects and conceptual issues that they would respond to, and work through, in the context of the group.

October 28. Indigenous Roots and Routes along the Humber River.
Attendance 25

This meeting took place as a public event, promoted through the JHI mailing list. Scholar and guide for First Story Toronto, Jon Johnson (French Canadian, with Haudenosaunee and Kichisipirini ancestry), led a walking tour that engaged Indigenous understandings of sovereignty, space, and place as it intersects with the urban geography and settler history of the GTA. Following the protocols of oral tradition, Johnson conveyed Anishinaabe knowledge to the group through a reading of ResurgeFirst Timeline (2017) murals painted by Philip Cote (with Kwest, Nelly Torossian, and Jarus).

November 14. Round Table: Whose Voice? Politics and Identity.
Attendance: 20
Presenters: Andrea Fatona, Rinaldo Walcott, Felicity Tayler
Respondent: Dot Tuer

December 12. Round Table: Artists, Networks, Cities.
Attendance: 30
Presenters: Rosemary Donegan, Luis Jacob, Adam Welch
Respondent: Barbara Fischer

This meeting took place as an invitational event. Attendance included several senior curators and members of educational outreach teams from the Art Gallery of York University, The Power Plant, and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

January 23. Round Table: Institutions and the Cultural Ecology.
Attendance: 20
Presenters: Corinn Gerber, May Chew, Janine Marchessault, Gregory Betts
Respondent: Charles Stankievetch

February 13. Round Table: “Centres” and “Peripheries,” So-Called.
Attendance: 15
Presenters: Sean Micallef, Theresa Enright
Respondent: Felicity Tayler

March 20. Speculative Frictions: Rapid Ideation.
Attendance: 25

Taking into consideration the content of past presentations and subsequent debates within the working group, meeting attendees took part in three rapid ideation sessions to develop content for a grant application. A stated goal of this working group was to create the conditions of possibility for a symposium and accompanying pedagogical resources. Working group members and invited guests shared their perspectives as teachers, researchers, students, and practitioners actively shaping how the content of the symposium and pedagogical resources would be developed – with a view towards the future.

April 17. New Voices.
Attendance: 20
Presenters: Marissa Largo, Henry Heng Lu, Carmen Victor
Respondent: Sam Cotter

May 15. Tkaronto Urban Imaginaries.
Attendance: 20

My Pronoun is Onkwehonwe: Presentation by Ryan Rice, Kanien’kehá:ka of Kahnawake, is an independent curator and the Delaney Chair in Indigenous Visual Culture at the Ontario College of Art and Design University

Reorienting to Cree: Presentation by Jason Baerg, Cree Metis curator, educator, and visual artist and Assistant Professor in Indigenous Practices in Contemporary Painting and Media Art at OCAD University.

This meeting took place as an invitational event, where the group worked through language, land-based relations, and urban Indigeneity as spaces and identities that intersect with queer feelings. Attendance included senior curators, artists, and renowned cultural and social activists.

This working group brought together scholars from three universities in the GTA who are thinking about the city of Toronto in relation to global art worlds. The late 20th century was characterized by a shift away from framing Toronto cultural production in relation to national culture. Understanding this discursive shift required attention to the way in which the city has been imaginatively projected in the visual arts and artistic scenes in Toronto, taking into consideration such factors as the conditions of production and funding, the critical reception of art, and the teaching of the histories of creative fields. The group considered visual arts, as a social field and disciplinary domain, to be an area that intersects with other domains in which the imaginary of a city takes form: in literature, music, dance, theatre, cinema, design, and architecture.

Points of departure for this working group included recent conferences and exhibitions that resist a canonical account of the city’s creative traditions: This is Paradise (U of T Art Centre, 2015), State of Blackness (OCAD, 2014), and The Ecology of an Art Scene: Paris-Toronto Series (Canadian Art Foundation, 2013) and exhibitions such as Form Follows Fiction (U of T Art Museum, 2016), Tributes + Tributaries (AGO, 2016), Is Toronto Burning? 1977/1978/1979 (AGYU, 2014) and Migrating the Margins (AGYU, 2017). This cluster of local exhibitions and conferences firmly place Toronto within a global trend of burgeoning interest in the relationship between place and distinct artistic culture. Comparable exhibitions include Dwelling Poetically: Mexico City, A Case Study (Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, 2018); The City Lost & Found: New York, Chicago and Los Angeles (Princeton University Art Museum, 2014); Intertidal: Vancouver Art and Artists (Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery; Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, 2005); and Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis (Tate Gallery, 2000).


Felicity Tayler, Arts and Sciences Postdoctoral Fellow, Art History
Barbara Fischer, University of Toronto Art Museum; Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape & Design
Elizabeth Legge, FAS History of Art


Faculty, University of Toronto
May Chew, FAS Cinema Studies Institute
Theresa Enright, FAS Political Science
Luis Jacob, Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape & Design
Shawn Micallef, Lecturer, Innis-One and UC-One program
Sean Mills, FAS History
Scott Rayter, FAS Sexual Diversity Studies
Charles Stankievech, Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape & Design
Rinaldo Walcott, OISE; Women & Gender Studies

Faculty Outside University of Toronto
Gregory Betts, Canadian Studies, Brock University
Rosemary Donegan, Art History, OCADU (retired)
Andrea Fatona, Art History, OCADU
Janine Marchessault, Art, Digital Media & Globalization, York University
Dot Tuer, Art History, OCADU

Graduate Students, University of Toronto
Liora Belford, Art History
Sam Cotter, Architecture, Visual Studies program
Andrea Creamer, Architecture, Visual Studies program
Corinn Gerber, Comparative Literature
Jordan Hale, Faculty of Information
Adam Welch, Art History

Graduate Students, outside University of Toronto
Kathryn Franklin, Humanities, York University
Emily Lawrence,  Contemporary Art History, Design & Media, OCAD University
Yilong Louie Liu,  Contemporary Art History, Design & Media, OCAD University
Carmen Victor, Communications & Culture, York University





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