Starting Monday, artists will be splashing murals throughout three Toronto neighborhoods to celebrate the Great Lakes and highlight the threats that face them. The murals are part of A Love Letter to the Great Lakes, Toronto’s first international street art festival, produced by the PangeaSeed Foundation. Twenty-one artists from near and far are convening on the city to paint murals intended to increase public awareness of Great Lakes issues, which include nutrient runoff, sewage overflows and invasive species. The Great Lakes contain 95 percent of North America’s surface freshwater.
“The power of public art and activism has the ability to educate and inspire global community to help save our natural resources,” said Tre’ Packard, executive director of the PangeaSeed Foundation, in a press release. “With disappearing native species, polluted water and beaches, invasive organisms and atmospheric pollution, whether you live on the coast, in the city or in the mountains, we should all feel responsible for the health of the oceans, lakes and life that lives within it.”
A Love Letter to the Great Lakes is the freshwater version of PangeaSeed’s project Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans. With that initiative, PangeaSeed has similarly brought artists to cities including Cozumel, Miami, Ho Chi Minh and Beijing to paint murals that raise awareness of threats to ocean health.
In Toronto, the murals — which will remain after the festival ends on June 25 — will be appearing in three neighborhoods: Queen/Ossington, Queen/Spadina and the Lower Don. The festival is also being billed as a love letter to Queen West, a vibrant Toronto arts district where galleries are being pushed out by condos. According to the festival’s press release, 14 art destinations have left the neighborhood in the past two years.
“While being a voice for our Lakes and the necessary action we must steward, we are also acting as a voice for the citizens of Toronto in this unprecedented period of growth and building, investing back into our culture and promoting city-building that enriches the neighborhoods where we live, one at a time,” said Jacquelyn West, founder of Hermann & Audrey, a Toronto art house that is one of the festival’s organizing partners.
A Love Letter to the Great Lakes will also include gallery showings of artists’ work, pop-up retail shops and a Friday bike tour of the murals as they near completion.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.