The Bentway, Toronto’s celebrated public space initiative that transforms the formerly uninspiring underbelly of the Gardiner Expressway, will burst back to life as the warm weather rolls in.

Aptly named STREET, The Bentway's vibrant summer season will begin on May 26 and run until the end of August. We can expect a series of free art installations, roving performances, conversations, and celebrations that will come to life on -- and in -- the city’s shared roadways, sidewalks, and public spaces. 

The initiative is designed to make Toronto’s streets more than a means to get from point A to B; rather, spots that become destinations in themselves and invite people to stay awhile.  

The concept of “sticky streets” -- a phrase coined by Vancouver-based urban planner Brent Toderian to describe a shift from a focus on the movement side of street use to the placemaking side -- has been common in places like Paris, Copenhagen, and Vancouver for some time. But Toronto historically lagged behind. 

In the past five years, however, the city has made major strides in the public space department -- even if it was partially inspired by the pandemic -- with celebrated initiatives like The Bentway, ActiveTO, and CafeTO.

“The Bentway was founded on the idea that the street is not only a path from point A to point B, but a destination in its own right,” says Anna Gallagher-Ross, Senior Manager of Programming at The Bentway. “Streets are where the city converges, through activities both spontaneous and planned. They are a place to see and be seen; a soapbox, a stage, a courtroom, a runway, a playground, and so much more. As Toronto celebrates its Year of Public Art, this felt like an important moment to challenge conventions of the street, and conventional notions of ‘street art.’”

So, what can we expect on Toronto’s streets this summer?

Public Art Installations

PARADE by Mimi Lien (New York, USA): May 26 to August 21
PARADE will add talking points below the Gardiner Expressway. Created by award-winning designer and MacArthur Genius grantee Mimi Lien, the kinetic installation uses a motorized conveyer belt suspended high above the underbelly of the urban highway to carry everyday objects we may encounter on our morning commute. 

Weweni Bizindan (Listen Carefully) by Ogimaa Mikana Project (Tkaronto, Canada): May 26  to August 21
Continuing their practice of re-installing Anishinaabe place-names throughout the roads, highways, trails, and paths of Toronto, the Ogimaa Mikana Project (Susan Blight and Hayden King) offers a new dialogue with the street. Amid the concrete, traffic, and winds of the Gardiner, King and Blight listen and respond to the sounds of Anishinaabe life with Weweni Bizindan (Listen Carefully). 

Moko Jumbie Mas Camp by Michael Lee Poy (Maracas St. Joseph, Trinidad & Tobago; Toronto, Canada): May 26 to July 24
In celebration of Carnival’s long relationship with the streets of Toronto, artist, educator, designer, and architect Michael Lee Poy leads a team of artists to transform The Bentway Studio into a Moko Jumbie Mas Camp. Moko Jumbie Mas Camp will offer free workshops for young people in stilt-walking, costume-making and more, culminating in a community parade centering balance, regalia, joy, and emancipation.

a wandering by the Reconstructions of Home Curatorial Collective (Toronto, Canada): April 14 to August 21
Following the year-long collaboration between The Bentway and SKETCH Working Arts, a wandering, by the Reconstructions of Home public art project continues with an audio-visual tour, presenting a series of perspectives on street culture, and lived experiences of homelessness and houselessness. 

Roving Performances

BentwayBodies in Urban Spaces

Bodies in Urban Spaces by Willi Dorner (Vienna, Austria): May 26-28
In choreographer Willi Dorner’s iconic performance, a colourfully-clad group of local dancers lead a breathtaking tour through Toronto’s streets, using their bodies to explore and respond to urban architecture. Audiences join in -- on the run -- as performers entangle with one another and the unique in-between spaces of the city, asking participants to reflect on our relationship to public space, and who and what it is for.

WEEPING CONCRETE by Hazel Meyer (Vancouver, Canada): June 11-12
In a growing city like Toronto, scaffolds are a ubiquitous feature of the urban environment. This site-specific project by Hazel Meyer engages a trio of performers across two towering scaffolds, prompting us to reflect on the streets as we know them, as well as imagining what they might become.

And With by Germaine Liu with soundscape design by Mark Zurawinski (Toronto, Canada): June 25-26
And With is a sound procession featuring multiple percussionists, vocalists, a mobile soundscape, and a “Wizard” that travels along The Bentway and surrounding neighbourhoods. Scenario-maker Germaine Liu and sound designer Mark Zurawinski take participants on a journey to experience the sounds, textures, and chorus of the rumbling urban artery of the Gardiner corridor like never before.

Nightwalks with Teenagers by Mammalian Diving Reflex / Darren O'Donnell (Toronto, Canada): July 14-16
Mammalian Diving Reflex, along with a group of local teens, invites participants to ‘walk on the wild side’ after sundown, and to experience the streets, alleys and secret urban spaces around The Bentway from their point of view. 

Night walksNightwalks with Teenagers by Mammalian Diving Reflex (2018)

Moko Jumbie Parade by Michael Lee Poy (Maracas St. Joseph, Trinidad & Tobago; Toronto, Canada): July 17
Join Michael Lee Poy, the Moko Jumbie Mas Camp artists, camp participants, and their families for a jubilant community Carnival parade centering balance, regalia, joy and emancipation -- travelling along the sidewalk around Canoe Landing Park.

Conversations and Celebrations

The Street Summit: May 27 & 28
Equal parts conference, workshop, artistic intervention and celebration, this free public event assembles citizens, urbanists, designers, researchers, city-builders and artists alike to consider how we can challenge traditional understandings of city streets and create a more inclusive, equitable -- and joyful -- public realm. 

The Bentway Block Party: August 14
The celebratory street party across The Bentway site will feature performances, music, street food and drink, family-friendly workshops, fashion shows, and more.