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Faculty of Arts & Science

Arts & Science News

Class tour: getting up close and personal with public art in Toronto

You don’t have to be an art history student, native Torontonian or even know anything about Canadian culture to qualify for Mark Cheetham’s Public Art in Toronto course. But you do have to be a first-year student willing to get up close and personal with some of the city’s public works of art.

The course is a great welcome to the city’s art and its impact, whether you’ve lived here all your life or just arrived.

“There is an amazing amount of public art here that is important to the civic life of Toronto,” said Cheetham. “The course is a way to link examples in Toronto that the students could see and work with to global issues because public art is not unique to any particular city.”

The course eases students into university life, too. Cheetham starts off the semester by taking the class — about 20 students — on a walking tour, starting at the Eaton Centre and ending at the Convention Centre. The course also features lectures and presentations by students on their favourite public art in Toronto, which must take place in front of the actual art.

“Standing in front of the piece of work you’re discussing is the single best thing,” Cheetham said. “If you’re studying visual culture, you need to understand in full context what you’re looking at.”

Cheetham is particularly excited that students who take the class often come from life sciences and math.

“Most of them weren’t born interested in this but everyone ends up interested in it, plus they get to know their city,” he said.

Check out some of the public art that Cheetham and students visit during their first class.

  • The first stop is Michael Snow’s ‘Flightstop’ at the Eaton Centre, known for a 1981 court case in which Snow successfully argued to remove red ribbons that had been wrapped around the geese’s necks for Christmas. Snow’s lawyers argued that the ribbons offended the integrity of and distorted his work. “Artist moral rights to not have their work tampered with were established internationally because of that case,” said Cheetham. “There’s a lot to talk about, so we always start there.” (Photo: Adrian Berg, CC BY-NC 2.0)