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Meet the man behind the Village’s newest furniture

BIA will officially unveil Church Street rainbow markers on April 14

Architect Claudio Santon designed the new Church Street rainbow gateway markers. Credit: Andrea Houston

Architect Claudio Santon says that people often ask him if he intended for the swirling rainbow blades on his new Church Street gateway markers to rotate.

“No,” he laughs. “If there were any moving parts on those things, costs would just quadruple.

“It’s always funny when people ask me that, but I guess I kind of designed it that way. I wanted the markers to look dynamic. So, in that sense, the design is successful because it gives that sense of movement.”

Santon has worked previously on interior renovations for a number of Village projects, including the Pink Triangle Press Church Street office and its new office at Yonge and Carlton streets.

“I used to live in the Village, so I have a vested interest in what the Village represents,” he says. “I feel a close connection to it. That’s why the [Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area] asked me to submit a proposal.”

It’s not clear whether the BIA ever released a public call for proposals from artists. BIA co-chair Liz Devine says the planning started before she joined the organization. Former board member Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam also doesn’t know if the BIA sent a request for proposals to the wider community.

Santon says the BIA gave him a fair amount of artistic freedom within certain design specifications. “They wanted a representation of the rainbow flag, which is iconic of the Church-Wellesley Village. They also wanted the markers to convey a sense of inclusion, because everyone is welcome in the Village.”

Most importantly, he says, the markers had to indicate the boundaries of the BIA, not the entire gay village. That’s why the south marker isn’t located at Church and Carlton streets.

At night, lights inside the markers illuminate writing on the cube base, which reads, “Church-Wellesley Village.” Santon, who says the markers are “vandal-proof,” feels tremendous pride in seeing his creation finally come to fruition.

“It’s a humbling experience to see something you designed, something that big, in such a public space,” he says. “Whenever I walk down Church Street, I kind of stare at them. I think they are really neat. They provide an element of surprise for people walking by.”

The BIA plans to unveil the markers officially on April 14 at 6pm; a reception at The Vic Public House on Church Street will follow.

The event is one of a number of BIA activities planned over the weekend, including a gay travel show at the Courtyard Marriott, a scavenger hunt and “mixers” aimed at promoting the Village and getting business owners excited about, and engaged with, WorldPride in 2014.

“We’re calling this the WorldPride activation weekend,” Devine says.

Along with the markers, Devine says the BIA plans to announce its plans for a partial summer street closure, which will create extended patios on Church Street for the bars and restaurants as well as temporary public seating. The co-curators for the Church Street mural project will also present an update on their progress and will announce the final list of participating artists.

“So, the gateway markers are just one initiative that is underway to beautify and enhance the Village,” Devine says.

The gateway markers, two 22-foot signposts, arrived on Church Street in February. Each came at a cost of $87,500, which was shared by the BIA and the City of Toronto. One marker is located just north of Wellesley Street, north of the entrance to Cawthra Park; the other is in front of the City Park Cooperative apartments, between Alexander and Wood streets.

Devine admits that she has heard some negative feedback about the markers, mostly about the cost. “People just see the final number and not all the years of preparation work that has gone into it,” she says.

The BIA removed the markers shortly after installation for maintenance work, but the group has yet to respond to Xtra’s repeated requests for further information about the repair work.

On March 26, BIA manager David Wootton told Xtra the BIA had enacted a new communications policy in order to better respond to media requests. Wootton promised further information about the repairs, pending board approval, but it never arrived. The BIA also failed to send Xtra staff any information about its WorldPride activation weekend.

Devine refused to provide clarification April 11, noting that a document about the repair work is available on the BIA website. Xtra asked Devine for further information after the document could not be located. “I’m not lying to you,” Devine said. “[The document was removed] because it’s not current anymore . . . Everything is complete now.”

Devine says she is not concerned that the BIA has an issue with transparency. She says the document was likely removed because work on the gateway markers is now completed. “Look, we publish our minutes, our contacts, our mission and our membership. Everything is very public. We are very accountable to the city.

“[The markers are] now back. They’re great. And we are celebrating their unveiling this weekend.”

Santon was able to shed some light on the problems, explaining that the contractor who installed the markers needed to correct a potential design flaw. “Stainless steel does not rust,” he explains. “The concern is that, if there is a contaminant on the stainless steel, there is a potential for them to rust . . . It’s actually something that should have happened before.”