Art of the Danforth festival on now

Festivals in Toronto often get mixed reactions. A nuisance for some residents, a pleasure for others. But no matter how they feel about festivals, they can rest assured that it will soon be gone, and life will resume as usual.

One team of artists aims to stray from this notion.

The Art of the Danforth Festival, presented by East End Arts, is a 10-day-long event starting today, May 2, and is intended to reflect and connect the diverse identities of the East Danforth neighbourhood, stretching from Greenwood to Woodbine Station.

This year’s exhibition director, Asad Raza, comes in with one main question: “What function does art have in a community?”

“This notion of the community is really a critical component, partially because what we’re interested in is what happens when you involve the community and different ideas and cultures into your practice,” Raza said. “What comes from doing your practice in the community is sometimes a really remarkable understanding of where your work fits in.”

With the help of curators Jessica Vallentine, Rita Camacho Lomeli and Aisle 4, the festival’s aim is to focus on engaging the community and to share their stories by becoming a part of the environment, rather than a spectacle within it.

“There may even be a moment when you come into the neighbourhood, looking to see Art of the Danforth, and you may actually not see anything,” Raza said. “I actually consider that to be a very positive thing.”

With installations set in empty storefronts, undiscovered streets and even along a jogging tour of the area, this year’s festival will expose residents and non-residents alike to the everyday beauty of the community, which sometimes goes unnoticed.

One group of contributing curators, Aisle 4, with artists Emily Fitzpatrick, Shannon Linde, Patricia Ritacca and Renée van der Avoird, have come into the festival with a fresh perspective, as they enter the community as ‘outsiders.’ They walked the stretch, discovering unique corners and welcoming people, aiding their ability to bring something new to the attention of residents.

“One of the things that we kept in our heads was: ‘Does our practice involve projects that make residents look up?’” Linde said. “As a curatorial group we’re really charmed with the neighbourhood…. I’m not sure you can have that sort of love affair when you’ve been living in the same place for a long time.”

Since its inception in 2010, the Art of the Danforth Festival has brought positive attention to the area. With empty storefronts, once the location of installations, now transformed into pop-up shops, this strip of the Danforth is working to revive itself.

But festival directors believe themselves to be growing alongside it, rather than being the source of that growth.

“The one thing that I really want to emphasize is that at no point do we ever feel like we’re improving the neighbourhood at all,” Raza said. “Because we are here more to learn about how people are and what’s going on with their lives; on one level celebrating it and on another level understanding it.”

The celebration begins with an Olympic-style lighting ceremony, an installation by artist collaborative vsvsvs. More festival information is available on the website www.artofthedanforth.com