A storefront-beautification project on Eglinton West tests the theory that if you artify it, they will come—so why not try it out all over the city?
The idea: Turn vacant storefront windows into de facto art galleries. Artists get some free space to show off their work, which building owners can use to draw attention to vacant spaces up for grabs. Meanwhile, pedestrians get something to look at besides newspapered-over windows and yellowing signage.
Who’s doing it now: The strip along Eglinton Avenue between Allen Road and Dufferin Street is temporarily a menagerie of discarded cables and particle board from the construction tearing its way along the road. But take a stroll through this “neighbourhood in transition” and you’ll find that a few of the vacant shopfronts stand out. In one, there’s a sculpture of grinning kids chucking snowballs at each other. Another has remote-control vehicles inexplicably affixed to a floating bottle of detergent and an egg carton. The installments are part of Gallery City—a partnership between Hogtown Mascots and the York-Eglinton BIA.
“It drives me nuts seeing all these buildings empty,” says John Kernaghan, owner of Hogtown and the project’s artistic director. “This gives the community something nicer to look at.” So far, Gallery City has six installations from local artists with plans to add more in the coming weeks. “I’d love it if the idea took charge all over the entire city,” he adds.
How it could work city-wide: While hipper neighbourhoods like Queen West and the Ossington strip might seem like apt candidates for gallery shopfronts (beyond the shopfronts that are actual galleries), it’s the euphemistically named “neighbourhoods in transition” that stand to benefit most from such beautification. And it doesn’t have to be art. Over on Danforth East, a few locals banded together to refurbish a vacant shopfront, turning it into a hub for a revolving cast of pop-up businesses. It’s no secret that the presence of a hip art scene is one of the first steps to gentrification. The hope here is: If you artify it, the startups and cool businesses and real estate boom will come.