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Painting begins for Toronto’s Church Street Murals project

Twenty-five artists will soon start work on 12 murals in advance of WorldPride

The mural that will soon grace the south wall of The Marquis of Granby pub, formerly The Barn.
 
 
Throughout the next few weeks you may notice the Village becoming even more colourful.
 
The Church Street Murals project is now underway. Project coordinators James Fowler and Syrus Marcus Ware say 12 walls will first get a coat of primer before scaffolding goes up and painting begins
 
The murals will adorn walls up and down Church Street, from the south-facing wall of The Marquis of Granby pub — previously home to a gay cowboy mural — to the northernmost mural on the 519 Church Street Community Centre.
 
“It’s happening,” Ware says. “It’s really exciting . . . The artists have come up with these incredible designs that totally encapsulate what we heard in the planning meetings. You will see those stories and research from the community elders.”
 
Ware says all 25 artists wanted the murals to reflect the diversity of the city and the rest of Ontario.  
 
“What is really apparent about this project is it really transcends the LGBT community,” Fowler says. “It’s diversity but not just within an LGBT construct. There’s a lot of ethnic diversity.”
 
One mural will examine bear and leather culture, another will look at the relationship queer people have with public and private sex, and another will celebrate organizing by queer women, trans women and sex workers, Ware says. “The LGBT community in Toronto is really diverse. So you will see a real intersectionality in a lot of the pieces.”
 
Artist Lily Butter Land's mural will be a 91-foot homage to gay bar and club culture dating back to 1961. Named “Ultra Church,” it will feature famous promoters, DJs, drag queens and dancefloor divas. 
 
“She has been doing extensive research at the archives,” Fowler says. “The piece features 50 people who have been superstars in the nightclub scene.”
 
Fowler says the group has taken great care to match artists to appropriate buildings. “So, we wouldn’t put a mural with a bunch of big bear guys on a women’s bar,” he says. 
 
Artist John Kuna — who is in charge of the mural that will be on The 519 — wants his painting to reflect the people who use the facility every day.
 
“One of the things we heard from people was that many community groups had their first meeting at The 519, because it’s all that was available then,” Ware says. “So [the mural] will be a real historical record of what’s happened there.”
 
Fowler says building owners have been very enthusiastic about the project — some have even offered more than one wall.
 
Corporate partners have also been generous and supportive, he says, including Dulux Paint and Home Depot, which both donated materials. “There will be some branding, but it will not be ads for these corporations,” he says. 
 
Ware says the team will complete work by October so that the murals will be ready for WorldPride in 2014.
 
The initial idea for the mural project came from Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who proposed it to the Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area in December. “This will be one of the largest and most exciting outdoor art projects in the world," she said at the time.
 
Fowler and Ware are now looking for volunteers who can assist the artists, preferably those with some painting experience. The team is also recruiting “ambassadors” to stand at the foot of the scaffolding to talk about the mural and engage the public. “For many of these pieces, the artist will be working high up on scaffolding, so what happens when people walk by and want information?” Ware asks.
 
Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Fowler or Ware at churchstreetmurals@gmail.com or join the conversation through the Facebook page and on Twitter.