The Leona Drive Project: ‘Sub/urban’ adventures in Willowdale

More than 20 noted Canadian artists are joining forces to transform a suburban Toronto street with The Leona Drive Project, a landmark collaboration uniting artists, students, developers and place-makers to create a site-specific exhibition running Oct. 22 to 31.

Set in one of Toronto’s oldest inner suburbs, the community of Willowdale in North York, The Leona Drive Project is a unique contemporary art show  featuring original installations that address the shifting space of the suburbs. Co-curated by York University film Professor Janine Marchessault (right) and Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD) Professor Michael Prokopow, the project aims to challenge and expand our understanding of suburban spaces.

The York University-based the Public Access Collective, in collaboration with LOT: Experiments in Urban Research collective, commissioned 18 artist projects for a series of five vacant Leona Drive bungalows slated for demolition by Hyatt Homes, a local developer. The artists are working in a variety of media, including audio, architectural installation, projection, photography, sculpture and performance to create new works for the 10-day exhibition.

Open daily from 1 to 4pm and 6 to 9pm, with artist talks each day at 1 and 6pm, the site is easily accessible by subway – only three blocks from the Sheppard-Yonge station.

The Leona Drive Project artists are The Arbour Lake Sghool, Thomas Blanchard, Daniel Borins + Jennifer Marman, Robin Collyer, Patricio Davila, Christine Davis, Anna Friz, Richard Fung, Michael Graham, John Greyson, David Han, Oliver Husain, Claire Ironside + Angela Iarocci, An Te Liu, Ryan Livingstone, Shana MacDonald + Angela Joosse, Michael Taglieri and Kim Tomczak + Lisa Steele.

Students from the Claude Watson Arts Program at Earl Haig Secondary School, situated only a few blocks away, will also be involved. Paired with professional artist-mentors, the students will create site-specific installations in the backyards of the houses.

Marchessault and Prokopow are working collaboratively with the artists and students to develop the exhibition, which is specifically designed to engage with the architecture and spatial design of the houses.

Left: One of the houses slated for demolition, pictured on the Leona Drive Project Web site

The exhibition has a strong archival nature, incorporating recorded audio interviews with new and longtime residents of Leona Drive, photographs of Willowdale past and present, and a documentary film about the project and the process behind it by York film Professor Philip Hoffman. After the exhibit, the photos, documents and history collected for the project will be archived online and at York University.

Marchessault, who conceived The Leona Drive Project, is a film professor and Canada Research Chair in Art, Digital Media & Globalization at York. A founding member of both Public Access and LOT, she is also the director of the Visible City Project + Archive, which examines artists’ cultures in the context of globalization. Prokopow, who holds a PhD in history from Harvard University, served as curator at Toronto’s Design Exchange from 2003 to 2007. An associate professor in liberal studies at OCAD, he is a member of the LOT collective.

The Leona Drive Project opening reception takes place on Friday, Oct. 23 from 7 to 10pm. A free shuttle bus will bring visitors from the Toronto International Art Fair (pickup at 7:45pm) and the Gladstone Hotel (pickup at 8pm), with a cocktail reception aboard en route. A special outdoor film screening curated by Pleasure Dome takes place on site at 9pm.

Several additional public programming initiatives round out the exhibition:

  • The Leona Drive Project will also offer special events and programs in partnership with the Toronto International Art Fair at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, including free Leona Drive dossiers with artist statements, concept sketches and photographs, and installations by artists Oliver Husain, An Te Liu and Christine Davis in the fair’s NEXT lounge area.
  • Willowdale Councillor John Filion will host a round-table discussion on urban planning in the suburbs Oct. 29 at the North York Public Library.
  • A future issue of the journal Public: Art/Culture/Ideas, edited by Marchessault and Prokopow, will be dedicated to The Leona Drive Project, exploring further the issues raised by the exhibition.

Admission to all venues is free. For more information, visit The Leona Drive Project Web site.