Fine arts grad will turn the city into a number puzzle

Hey! Can I paint a big white dot on your roof?, asked the Toronto Star Feb. 24. That’s the question Stephanie Avery [BFA Spec. Hons. ’04] will be asking Torontonians as she embarks on a decidedly awesome art adventure.

The 30-year-old artist is behind “Connect the T-Dots”, a project that will turn aerial and satellite views of Toronto into a giant number puzzle. “I think at first people might think it’s a bit of a joke,” she says. “But once they see how much fun it will be, hopefully they’ll be offering up their rooftops.”

Avery, the first-ever Toronto Awesome Foundation grant winner, was handed a paper bag stuffed with $1,000 in cash on Thursday night at the organization’s launch party.

The Awesome Foundation – a concept that began in Boston and has since expanded to 13 chapters around the world – gives out monthly no-strings-attached cash grants to people with great ideas.

Avery’s pitch beat out more than 250 wild ideas submitted by hopefuls across the GTA.

Her rooftop dots will be white, numbered and three to four metres in diameter. When connected, they will form various shapes unique to each city neighbourhood. In Cabbagetown, for example, the dots could form the shape of a cabbage. Avery plans to solicit shape suggestions from community members.

The Awesome Foundation grant, she says, will pay for the first neighbourhood connect-the-dots puzzle, including the cost of renting a helicopter for aerial photos.

Avery’s biggest challenge is kind of obvious: she will have to convince business and home owners to let her make a mark on their roofs.

Her strategy is simple. “Ask nicely. It’s worked for me in the past with other strange projects that I’ve done.”

The strangest of them all was probably a sculptural installation made entirely of human teeth and dental floss. Avery, who studied visual art at York University, approached local dentists and convinced them to hand over more than 500 pearly whites for the piece. “It’s amazing what people will help you with if you just ask.”

Avery’s quintessentially Canadian approach is one of the reasons the Awesome Foundation chose her project.

The Trustees of Awesome also favoured it for the “huge participation possibility” in the crowd-sourcing of images and local rooftop volunteering. They also felt the project could draw global attention through Google Maps.

Avery says she’s a little bit intimidated to be the foundation’s first recipient, but is confident she can pull it off. “What do people use their roof for? Not much, usually. This way they get to be a part of a piece of art.”

Toronto police officer apologizes for telling women not to dress ‘like sluts’

A Toronto police officer tasked with giving advice on keeping women safe on campus has now issued an apology for suggesting they could avoid sexual assault by not dressing “like sluts”, wrote The Canadian Press Feb. 24.

The comments were made during a campus safety information session at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School last month, which the officer was assigned by the force to lead.

The officer has written a letter of apology to the University’s students and staff, Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash said Thursday. “The comments that were made are clearly diametrically opposed to the way in which we train our people, the way in which we train our investigators and the way in which we write about sexual assault,” he said.

Pugash said the officer has been disciplined, but would not say what actions were taken. He would not comment on the contents of the letter, citing privacy issues.

Police launched an investigation into the matter following complaints from Osgoode students and staff.

Joey Hoffman, a residence fellow and a member of Osgoode’s student government, was among those who heard the officer’s presentation at the Jan. 24 assembly. The officer’s apology “is a step in the right direction,” he said.

Others say it doesn’t make up for the damage the officer’s words have caused by casting blame on the victims of sexual assault. “To have an organization like the police say that… it really decreases the likelihood that survivors of sexual assault will talk to anyone,” said Mila Guidorizzi, a training coordinator at the University’s Sexual Assault Survivors’ Support Line.

Guidorizzi said she would like the officer to take one of their training sessions. “I think he could learn a lot from us,” she said.

Darshika Selvasivam, vice-president of campaigns and advocacy for the York Federation of Students, said the officer’s comments reveal a larger, systemic issue within the police service when it comes to dealing with sexual assault.

The current police training “clearly isn’t sufficient…because this officer clearly felt comfortable (making the comments) despite the training that he had received,” she said.

Toronto police should go through a third-party audit of its policies and practices “so that victims of sexual assault don’t continue to be alienated in this way,” she said.

York University said in a statement it has a good relationship with Toronto police, but was “surprised and shocked by the comment that was made by the constable.” “We at York certainly do not agree with it,” the statement read.

  • Selvasivam also spoke about recent comments by court and police officials suggesting women invite rape by the way they dress, on CBC Radio Winnipeg, Feb. 24.

Show strikes right chord

When he was a junior in college, [York Professor] Ron Westray did something many students do – he drove home to check out a concert, wrote Feb. 24. He didn’t realize it at the time, but that Wynton Marsalis show would serve as the launching pad for his career.

A swaggering, smack-talking 20-year-old, Westray approached the jazz legend during the intermission and mentioned that he’s a trombonist. Marsalis responded by inviting him to grab his instrument and come backstage to jam. When the concert resumed, Westray was on stage blowing his horn for the crowd.

Afterwards, Marsalis spread the word about the tall, lanky youngster, who is the grandson of Pittsburgh jazz stalwart Joe Westray.

When renowned pianist Marcus Roberts came to play the same club in Columbia, South Carolina, a week later, he’d heard about Westray and brought him up to perform. Within a few months of that gig, he found himself playing in the Marcus Roberts Septet as first trombonist. “It’s been a rocket ship ever since,” he said.

To aficionados of the genre, Westray is perhaps best known for his work with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra or his collaborations with Wycliffe Gordon. He gained wider notoriety here after landing at York University in 2009 to fill the Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance.  

Now, Westray is gearing up for his debut faculty concert at York’s Tribute Communities Recital Hall Tuesday, March 1.

Canadian Stage Announces 2011-2012 Season

Canadian Stage today announced the people and productions being featured in the 2011-2012 theatre season, wrote Feb. 23.

2011 will also mark the first year of the York University MFA Program in Stage Direction in collaboration with Canadian Stage, a two-year program that will allow students to integrate studio work at York with involvement in artistic projects at Canadian Stage, working closely with Canadian Stage Artistic & General Director Matthew Jocelyn and Associate Artist Kim Collier. Canadian Stage’s participation is generously sponsored by BMO Financial Group.

The Art Economist engages York’s Don Thompson as contributing editor

The Art Economist Co., publishers of The Art Economist, the 10-time per year publication that examines the contemporary art market, announces that it has engaged economist and best-selling author Don Thompson to contribute his economic expertise and perspective of the contemporary art market to its global publication, wrote Feb. 24.

Thompson teaches marketing and economics in the MBA program at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. He has taught at the London School of Economics and at Harvard Business School. Thompson lives in London and Toronto. He is author of the 2008 book, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art, which made the London Times bestseller list and is now available in 10 languages. Thompson’s most recent book, Oracle, on economic prediction, will be published in spring 2011 by Harvard Business Press.

Placido Domingo, Helen Mirren to headline new music fest at Rexall Centre

The 14-week Black Creek Summer Music Festival – a 20-concert music festival that will be held at a tennis arena at York University in northern Toronto – has announced three concerts by the London Symphony Orchestra, as well as performances by jazz singers Tony Bennett and Diana Krall, singer-songwriter James Taylor and actors Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons, wrote The Globe and Mail Feb. 24. The series opens June 4 with a show featuring tenor Placido Domingo and soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, with a pickup orchestra and choir.

The concerts will take place in the Rexall Centre, one of two venues used for the annual Rogers Cup of tennis. Mark Fisher, stage designer for the Rolling Stones and the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, will build a stage and sound structure that will stand near the centre of the roofless, oval-shaped arena.

On air

  • Paul Delaney, professor of physics & astronomy in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about the final mission of the space shuttle Discovery, on CTV News Feb. 24.
  • James Morton, adjunct professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about the dangers of political appointments to public boards, such as the National Parole Board, on CBC Radio’s “Power & Politics” Feb. 24.
  • Two professors from York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Walid El Khachab, professor in York’s Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics, and  history Professor Thabit Abdullah, took part in a panel discussion about the rise of democratic protests in the Middle East, on TVO’s “The Agenda” Feb. 24.