Arts & Entertainment
4 min

Red-light district

Church-Wellesley BIA sticks to sexual lib mandate

A new, all-night, red-light-district-themed art party could take over Church St this September if a plan by a local art collective and the Church-Wellesley Village Business Improvement Association (CWVBIA) gets a green light from the City Of Toronto’s culture division.

Kristyn Wong-Tam, realtor, gallery owner and CWVBIA board member, says CWVBIA’s support for the proposal shows the new board, which took over earlier this year, is more committed than ever to a sexual liberation agenda, in addition to more day-to-day concerns such as street beautification.

“For me, it’s integral that we can talk about where we came from [as a community] and what those roots mean,” says Wong-Tam. “I wouldn’t prefer to be a part of something boring and sanitized because then we’d just be no different than the Danforth BIA or the Bloor Street BIA…. If we didn’t focus on our core values that we wouldn’t be true to ourselves.”

“The new board adds more of a sexual liberation feel,” agrees board member and Steamworks general manager Cam Lewis. “It’s getting to be a bit more [of a focus].”

Turning the gay village over to local artists and revellers for the popular all-night art festival Nuit Blanche is just one item on the agenda of the CWVBIA’s new board, which was elected and began working in February. The new board also plans to make Halloween, Christmas and street beautification top priorities for 2007, says Wong-Tam.

After the success of last year’s Nuit Blanche, a one-night art festival that took over much of downtown last fall, Wong-Tam joined forces with an art group called the Toronto Nightless Collective in a bid to extend the event to Church St. Called “Nightless City,” the event would transform the street into a theatrical red-light district to celebrate leisure pursuits from bygone eras, namely the “floating worlds” of 17th-century Japan.

“It was the world where Shoguns could go into a designated geographic area in the city and throw away societal restraints of what it meant to be a Shogun,” she explains. “We would recreate that as a red light district and ask everyone to stay open from 7am to 7pm. We want it to be a very open environment where everyone can participate.

“This salute to bawds and bawdy houses recalls bygone times, when ‘gentlemen of leisure’ sought out women who offered only leisure and the word ‘sex’ was rarely used,” states the proposal. “For Nuit Blanche, the whole of Church St becomes a marvellous play, suggesting forbidden love in the 1950s, the 1890s and before, celebrating the influence and glory of prostitutes, both men and women, throughout history.”

Painters, writers and artists will be encouraged to set up in creative spaces along the street. “Drag queens, ladyboys, the fat, the old and everyone in between can come down — we just want it to be a very open environment where everyone can participate,” says Wong-Tam.

The project is currently awaiting approval from the city’s Live With Culture department. The cost of the proposed event is still up in the air and CWVBIA will consider how to fund the event pending the proposal’s approval.

The gay village’s participation in Nuit Blanche would also be seen as a boost to local artists, who were left in the dust when the CWVBIA canned the Molly Wood spring arts festival.

There wasn’t enough time between the new board’s election in February and the proposed May event to pull the festival together, says new CWVBIA chair and Church St Baskin-Robbins owner Sam Ghazarian. No firm date had been set and no staff had been hired to carry out the event.

“The first board put [Molly Wood] into motion, but when the new board came in there just wasn’t enough time to plan it,” says Ghazarian.

Wong-Tam says she hopes the idea of the Molly Wood festival will be revisited next year.

Instead the $20,000 earmarked for Molly Wood will be used for Christmas lights, decorations and tree planters, he says, something Ghazarian says business owners along Church St have been demanding for year. Rather than string lights up on lampposts, the CWVBIA hopes to work with businesses to decorate storefronts.

A series of new flags will also begin to appear along the street in May.

“We’re going back to the original rainbow flag,” says Ghazarian. “We’re bringing the rainbow and the pride back to the village.”

The new design will maintain the profile of Alexander Wood and the CWVBIA logo, but will now also feature the iconic rainbow. Additionally, 18 flower baskets will go up on lampposts along Church from May to October.

Property owners in the village also have until June to apply for grants under the city’s Commercial Façade Improvement Area Program. Store owners can qualify for up to $10,000 for storefront renewal and up to $12,500 to revive corner locations.

Two existing events that have the support of the new board are the annual Church Street Fetish Fair, scheduled for Sun, Aug 19, and the longstanding Halloween celebration, which will be expanded into a weeklong festival this year leading up to Wed, Oct 31. Planning for Halloween began with the last board, which earmarked $25,000 in funding for the event.

Lewis has stepped in to take the reins of the fetish fair, which attracted some 20,000 visitors last year, making it the second largest event in the village after Pride. The future of the annual event was thrown into peril last year when the previous executive producer quit. The event has been running for three years has a $25,000 budget for 2007.

“We’re hoping to maintain the street party it’s been for the past three years,” says Lewis. “Whereas Molly Wood had no board, no history, the Church Street Fetish Fair is four years running and has 100 volunteers pulling it off.”