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public art

We are committed to making public art a part of everyday life in our new neighbourhoods.

During the early planning phases, we create a public art strategy and select prominent locations for public artwork in each waterfront district. Our goal is to create a contemporary collection of public art that reflects the neighbourhood’s character and ensures that every artwork is accessible to all residents and visitors. Once complete, each artwork becomes part of the City of Toronto’s Public Art and Monuments Collection.


Our public art commissions are funded by pooling developer contributions from across each waterfront district, building on the City of Toronto’s Percent for Public Art model.


To date, public art strategies and master plans have been approved for the West Don Lands and East Bayfront. Strategies and plans are currently underway for Villiers Island and Lower Yonge Precinct.


the public art commissioning process


Once a public art master plan is approved and developer contributions have been received, we open up individual public art sites to an artwork selection process. These public art opportunities are open to Canadian and international professional artists at any stage in their career. Proposals are then evaluated through a fair and transparent process. In commissioning new work, we strive to exceed expectations for art in the public realm by creating art work that is thoughtful, context appropriate and that will engage the public over the long term.

Once an artist is selected, we work with them to refine, fabricate and install their art work.


west don lands public art strategy


One of our first neighbourhoods to integrate public art in the early planning phases of the neighbourhood is the West Don Lands. As we designed the public realm – streets, overpasses, parks and other public spaces – public art was integrated from the start, rather than added as an afterthought.

The West Don Lands Public Art Strategy, dated October 2009, is the first public-art master plan of it size and nature to be implemented in Canada. The strategy offers a framework for integrating public art that celebrates the industrial heritage of the site, as well as its sustainable, vibrant future. It also includes specific recommendations for conceptualizing, planning and commissioning art that not only beautifies the area, but enriches the community as a whole.

Download the West Don Lands Public Art Strategy here.


east bayfront public art master plan


The East Bayfront Public Art Master Plan is based on the same strength of collaboration, seen in the West Don Lands Public Art Strategy, with different mechanisms for funding due to the nature of land ownership and zoning.

The general objective of the East Bayfront Public Art Master Plan is to maximize the impact, significance and public benefit of the precinct art program, delivering a cohesive public art collection and unique identity for the East Bayfront area that is anchored by its artworks.

The East Bayfront Public Art Master Plan takes, as a thematic starting point, this reclamation and re-telling of the city’s relationship to the water, the shore as intersection of human activity and the natural environment.

Download the East Bayfront Public Art Master Plan here.

video: public art in west don lands


Watch a short video that walks you through some of our public art projects and highlights how public art has helped transform the West Don Lands.




Temporary installations


SOS (Safety Orange Swimmers), ann hirsch and jeremy angier, harbour square hark 

Twenty-five bright orange figures cling to inner tubes on the water in Harbour Square Park. The Safety Orange Swimmers connect Lake Ontario to the seas crossed by all those in search of shelter, freedom and safety, evoking Toronto’s immigrant history. Each figure represents more than one million of the nearly 26 million refugees in the world today. This number continues to rise; three figures have been added to the installation since its 2016 debut. This installation will run until mid-September 2019.



completed projects



Tadashi Kawamata's proposal for Front Street East is a twelve-metre-high tower that contrasts with the orthogonal geometry of buildings, street lines and the efficiently organized public space of the new Front Street in West Don Lands. The sculpture, which invites pedestrians into its centre, is an accumulation of lampposts that appear to hold themselves together as mikado sticks just before they fall.

At night, the lamps are lit with energy-efficient bulbs, creating a bright internal volume. The lampposts are visible in contrast, casting abstract shadows on the adjacent pavement. Selected from lamppost designes widely- and locally-available, preferably from those already used on Toronto's streets, the work has become a landmark beacon for the neighbourhood. 





The Water Guardians is an integrated artwork, landscape design and play project. It depicts three towering abstract figures whose minimalist profiles and eyes, illuminated at night, suggest a vigilant outward gaze. The spout-like arm of the figure to the left suggests water flowing into a stylized river made of recycled rubberized play surface, which flows out in both directions from the archway formed by The Water Guardian's legs. The curving shape of the figure on the right suggests fluid motion, a personification of water. The riverway runs on the same axis as Front Street (east to west within the artwork site) and is punctuated by green mounds of rubberized play surface. Standard play equipment represents buoys with mobile bases allowing for interactive play.




Mark di Suvero is internationally considered to be one of the most significant sculptors of the 20th century. In 1967, while in the early stages of his career, di Suvero was invited by the City of Toronto to participate in an International Sculpture Symposium in High Park. Di Suvero was given access to a crane and operator and the results were two monumental pieces, Flower Power and No Shoes, which were the first works in what became the artist’s signature style.

After a lengthy restoration and re-installation coordinated with the City of Toronto, who continue to own the work, and overseen by di Suvero himself, No Shoes was installed in Corktown Common in June 2013.



Peeled Pavement, created by Vancouver-based artist Jill Anholt in collaboration with The Planning Partnership, consists of four bronze and cast glass elements that have been integrated into the public realm design for Mill Street. 

Located in the West Don Lands beside the Distillery District, the work  punctuates the side walk, revealing an underside of industrial artifacts lit from below the surface. Linking this rich and complex industrial history to the renewal of life and growth envisioned for the public realm of the future, Peeled Pavement captures the energies of the working city.




Mirage, by Toronto-based artist Paul Raff, was selected through an open public art competition. The installation of 57 octagonal mirror polished stainless steel surfaces applied to the underside of the Richmond/Adelaide overpasses draws inspiration from the definition of a mirage as an optical illusion by atmospheric conditions.

Each of the panels is slightly different in size and spacing to create a subtle sense of movement as their mirror polished surface bounce light around the space.

The artist uses unusual site conditions of a park under an elevated roadway, to blur the horizon lines between earth and sky.


light showers, jill anholt, 2011, sherbourne common

A series of sculptures integrated into the water purification system of the park, these graceful arcs echo the scale of the adjacent Gardiner Expressway while giving visual and tactile expression to the surrounding community’s aspirations to sustainability and the future.

The nine metre tall Light Showers, made out of concrete and glass, carry the collected and purified community stormwater along channels, lifting it from the ground to the sky where it cascades as a textured veil of water and returns it to Lake Ontario. In the evening, integrated motion sensors trigger shifting light patterns in the artwork, emphasizing the sustainability connection between personal action and environmental effect.



Garden of Future Follies


Hadley+Maxwell’s first permanent public artwork was installed on Front Street East in spring 2016 and brings the past to life by fragmenting and rearranging parts of monuments, sculptures and architecture from all over the City of Toronto.

Based on the idea of the folly – a fanciful and purely decorative structure popular in 18th and 19th century romantic gardens and landscapes– this project reimagines a ‘garden of follies’ incorporating elements from monuments that are normally high above the street and physically out of reach, bringing them down to street level where they can be celebrated and enjoyed. The work builds a collection of unusual characters that creates a sense of play, inviting us to explore and interact with our city’s history.


projects in development


Aitken Place Park

The public art opportunity at Aitken Place Park is a component of the Connections program within the East Bayfront Public Art Master Plan.

“Connections” are commissions that will animate smaller sites north and south of the Queens Quay “main street”. The artwork will be light based.

Waterfront Toronto has identified a specific art opportunity at this site and is seeking to commission a lighting artist, or an artist working with a lighting designer, to develop a concept that will use the structure of the light standards specified in the park design, to cast a program of light or projection onto the ground plane of the “urban porch”, which is left blank for this purpose. With equal concern for critical artistic integrity and thoughtful integration in the public realm, Waterfront Toronto is striving to deliver an exceptional artwork that brings the unique qualities of the location to the fore while resonating beyond the particulars of the site.



While our own capital building projects will take years to be fully implemented, temporary arts and cultural events and festivals have the potential to bring people down to the waterfront time and again, energizing our work along the water’s edge. For this reason, Waterfront Toronto endeavours to bring some of Toronto’s many such festival to our portfolio of sites. We have worked to date with Open Roof Fesitval, Luminato, StreetArt Toronto, the Winter Stations, and are in discussion with various other potential future partners.


Nuit Blanche


On October 3, 2015, the City of Toronto's Nuit Blanche brought thirteen art projects to the waterfront. It was the annual event's first time along Queens Quay and curator Christine Shaw's exhibition, The Work of the Wind, transformed our main waterfront boulevard from Parliament Street to Harbourfront Centre.

The thirteen art projects re-interpreted the Beaufort wind force scale – an empirical measure of wind speed used by mariners since the 19th century – with stunning results that included video projections, ethereal vapours, molten lava, exploding cinder blocks, and rhythmic sound.

video: The Work of the Wind: Nuit Blanche 2015 on Toronto's Waterfront


Watch a short video for highlights on Nuit Blanche 2015.


blog post: public art is essential to building a neighbourhood’s character


Public art plays an important role in creating the character of a city’s places and spaces – and the cultural, social and economic benefits of public art are real. Read our blog post to learn more.


Summer 2016 Programming Pilot Project


Over the course of summer 2016, Waterfront Toronto produced a program of free arts and cultural events in the West Don Lands and East Bayfront neighbourhoods.  We also provided crucial funding to a pair of mural projects that helped to beautify waterfront parks and trails. 

Check out this blog post that walks you through some of the highlights of the season. 


Bringing Arts and Culture to the Waterfront in 2017


In 2017 we launched our call for proposals for summer arts programming. The Animating Our Waterfront grant program awarded up to $10,000 to artists or arts organizations who sought to present arts and cultural programming in waterfront public spaces. We were excited for another summer of dance, music, performance, literary and media arts! Learn more here.



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