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The role of public art in Toronto's condo boom

It takes more than lavish suites to sell condos. These days, property developers turn to the talents of local and international artists to add colour to their properties, and these creative works are becoming integral elements in enticing new buyers. 
"There's such a night and day difference between what people were doing to the exterior and interior of a building, and what they're doing now," says Larissa Doherty, a Toronto-based real estate broker with Bosley Real Estate Ltd. "They're just getting savvy about the image of the downtown professional living or working in these condos and really want to appeal to them not just with the suite, but with the entire inside and outside of the building."
Check out any of the new condos going up today and this trend quickly becomes evident. At ART Condo in Parkdale, buyers visiting the property for a first-hand look at the suites are dazzled by the many artsy decorations inside. Details such as antiques and graphic prints are set up in the units, all of them available for purchase. Walking in and seeing original paintings instead of plain white walls makes it easier for the buyer to imagine living there.
At ART Condo, the walls and ceiling of the loading bay in the rear alley are painted black and, when completed, will have a disco ball and LED lights creating a dance club-like feel. Just like that, a typically boring space reserved for delivery trucks becomes transformed into a destination off the beaten path where people can explore and meet some of their neighbours.  
"There's an element of curb appeal that people forget about with condos," says Doherty. "With a condo the curb appeal starts outside the building and then stretches into the lobby, up the elevators, down the hallway, until you finally reach the suite door."

Toronto-based artist Claire Hall creates custom artwork for some of the city’s new properties. She knows first-hand how viewing a suite with original art work can hook a buyer, or at least play into their decision. She’ll either visit the suite herself or have the developer send pictures of the unit. After that, she’ll get into details about colour, size, and imagery then proceed to make her creations.

"When potential buyers come in and see original art in the space they think the place has more value, or a high price tag associated with it, as opposed to prints," says Hall. "It's happened where I've staged a home with art and they end up writing the art into the deal when they buy the home, so I know art was an influencing factor."
Toronto’s Official Plan supports the addition of public art installations through the Percentage For Public Art Program. The initiative calls for one per cent of construction costs to be reserved for the addition of public art. It ensures the smooth integration of art into communities in an intelligent fashion, making it clear and visible at all times.  
Nowhere in the city is this more dramatically displayed than at Concord CityPlace, the condo development shooting up near the waterfront from the Roger’s Centre to Bathurst Street. 
Gabriel Leung, VP of development for Concord Adex, attests to the value of these masterpieces. "Public art is a very integral part of our community development. It really adds a lot to the quality of life in the public realm," he says.
CityPlace calls its 15 outdoor art installations "Toronto's newest outdoor art gallery" with more installations to come. Existing ones include Canoe Landing Park, a park overlooking the Gardiner filled with works created by Canadian author and visual artist Douglas Coupland. The park contains Tom Thompson’s Canoe, a giant red canoe on the edge of the park. The Miracle Mile, an homage to Terry Fox, has several large photos on display around the mile-long running track that surrounds the park. The photos show various aspects from Fox’s legacy such as his prosthetic leg and a beat up gym sock, to name a few.
But most striking of the installations at Concord CityPlace are the ones created by Chilean artist Francisco Gazitua. Some residents can look outside their windows and see Barca Volante or Rosa Nautica, two giant metallic structures stretching up into the sky. They were created in Gazitua’s open air workshop in the Andes Mountains, and getting them to Toronto involved loading them onto a truck, driving through the winding mountain roads, and shipping them to Toronto on a boat.
"Barca and Rosa work together as a metaphor for navigation expanding the aesthetic will of the viewer though the lake, through the St. Lawrence River, finally to the ocean," Gazitua writes in an email from his native Chile through a translator. 
Gazitua is also the creator of Puente de Luz, the yellow bridge spanning the GO tracks from Front Street to the Concord CityPlace complex.  
"Sculpture must not only be in museums and this specialist, cloistered world, but must return to the street where it should never have left, in order to fulfill its duty-- to humanize the spaces of the city and the daily lives of its citizens," he writes.   
These public art installations can attract more creative-minded individuals to the property, but the customer base does vary. "I think it does make a difference to someone who cares about the image they’re projecting by living in a certain building," says Doherty.
When a developer wants to add public art to one of its properties, it must first talk with the architects about the locations of any possible installations.  After that, the developer enlists the help of an art consultant who compiles a portfolio of possible artists for the job. There is a lengthy process of interviews and artist proposals before the list is narrowed down and eventually an artist is hired. All public art must be approved by the Toronto Public Art Commission.  
The process of determining which artist to hire and what should be commissioned is long with many steps along the way. But it’s one that yields wonderful results for the public and is becoming not an option, but something essential to keep up with Toronto’s burgeoning condo market.

Chris Riddell is a freelancer writer in Toronto. He writes for print and web publications by day, and poetry and fiction by night.
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