This article was originally published in the 2019 Summer issue of Invest In Style Magazine.
Yonge + St. Clair’s history was shaped by the arts. It was home to legendary pianist Glenn Gould, two movie theatres, and was a destination for fine fashion. Although much of that history is physically gone, Yonge + St. Clair’s DNA is inescapably tied to these cultural roots. Yet in the recent past, the neighbourhood has been overlooked by many as they seek amenities and attractions more easily found at Yonge and Eglinton or Yonge and Bloor. So how do we bring that culture back to a neighbourhood with no galleries, theatres, or major event spaces?
Enter the Yonge + St. Clair Business Improvement Area (BIA). Formed in early 2018, our primary goals are to populate the area with arts and cultural experiences, generate attention, and to attract new visitors. The strategic actions of the BIA – combined with a renewed sense of opportunity by local property owners and merchants – is re-writing the area’s narrative and helping to shape a new Yonge + St. Clair that cannot be ignored.
Just before the BIA was established, Slate Asset Management commissioned an 8-storey mural by internationally acclaimed UK artist Phlegm on the side of their building at 1 St. Clair W. The mural depicts a gigantic human form comprised of Toronto landmarks. The artwork became an instant icon for Yonge + St. Clair and set the tone for the cultural amenities yet to come.
Midway through 2018, the BIA began preparations for a winter installation that would create a destination for holiday shoppers. Their challenge: design a unique cultural landmark with a holiday theme while being innovative enough to make the public want to visit.
Working with local artists Studio F Minus, the BIA developed the ‘Tunnel of Glam,’ an 80-foot long tunnel comprised of over 14 million reversible sequins. The sequin material, a popular fabric used on children’s toys and clothing, is a tactile experience that allowed visitors to physically alter and shape the installation. It was the largest single use of the reversible sequin material ever undertaken in the world, creating a stunning visual impact. The Tunnel was built in late November of 2018 and opened publicly for the first time on December 1.
The response was immediate and overwhelming. Local news outlets shared the story of the magical 80-foot sequin tunnel. It attracted thousands of daily visitors during its four-week run, with the Tunnel often being completely full while eager visitors waited outside for their turn. Photos of the Tunnel went viral, receiving over 1.2 million impressions on social media. Best of all, it brought people of all ages to the neighbourhood on the weekends when Yonge + St. Clair is typically slower. The Tunnel is now in storage, awaiting its revival during the 2019 holiday season.
They’ve also developed partnerships with local arts events to bring those experiences to the neighbourhood. In January of 2019, the BIA partnered with DesignTO (formerly the Toronto Design Offsite Festival) to add installations and programming as part of the two-week festival. The BIA collaborated with local property owners and artists, bringing 12 art installations to the area. It was the largest agglomeration of art in the festival program. A walking tour of prominent installations was hosted by DesignTO, together with a free public lecture featuring local Toronto creatives.
This is just the beginning. The Yonge + St. Clair BIA will soon re-launch the Summer Music Series, bringing musicians to the neighbourhood’s streets. They’re working on the installation of a new mural that will create another landmark for the community. They’re planning installations for the summer. They’re growing more partnerships with local arts programmers. And of course, they’re bringing back the Tunnel of Glam.
The work of the BIA has only started and doesn’t exist in a silo. It’s going hand in hand with the vision and passion of the local merchants, business owners, employees, property owners, and residents. Together, there is a shared belief in the potential of this community and the opportunity to create an exciting destination for the arts. See you at Yonge + St. Clair.