An international art biennial for Toronto—YES!
The idea had been swirling around in my brain for as long I’d been working in the commercial art world in Toronto and Europe. How do we turn the city into an international destination for art? How do we make Canadian art top of mind both at home and abroad? How do we create a powerful and inclusive moment for Toronto in which creativity and big ideas are supported, shared, celebrated, and elevated?
In 2014, the idea started to become a reality in conversation and collaboration with good friends and art community leaders, Melony Ward and Susannah Rosenstock (Susannah is now the Biennial’s Deputy Director and Director of Exhibitions). Over the next few years, the Biennial went from being a passion project to my full-time job, as countless hours were spent building a Curatorial Advisory, growing the Board, and convincing the City of Toronto, donors, and funders to support priority groundwork. Innumerable coffee dates and lunch meetings; lengthy conversations while driving around the city. These stolen moments slowly became the groundwork for a pie-in-the-sky project that, despite the odds, we kept willing into being.
In 2016, I met Ilana Shamoon; she helped take the project to the next level. Ilana had recently moved back from Paris where she had been working as a curator. In March 2018, she authored our Curatorial Framework, which helped articulate an exciting biennial model specifically for Toronto. It was indeed this vision that brought us to Candice Hopkins and Tairone Bastien, two thoughtful Canadian curators with international experience whom we are so grateful to have overseeing both the 2019 and 2021 editions.
For our inaugural year, we set our sights on programming across Toronto’s waterfront, which is currently undergoing urban renewal at a faster pace than anywhere else in North America. But this stretch of Lake Ontario was active long before Toronto became a city and has been populated by Indigenous peoples for at least 15,000 years. We conceived of the Biennial as an opportunity to honour and explore those underrepresented histories while temporarily inhabiting repurposed sites along the lake.
It was Mohawk artist and researcher Ange Loft, Associate Artistic Director of Jumblies Theatre & Arts, who produced one of our most instrumental documents—the TorontoIndigenous Context Brief—which helped shape our thinking about the lake and approach to Exhibitions and Programs. One of the Biennial’s objectives is to raise awareness about indigeneity in this region in the context of art and programming that asks us to reconsider how we are in relation with each other, the land, and our environment. Ange’s generosity and insights have been a beacon for this project.
And now, almost 5 years later, here we are. The Toronto Biennial of Art is happening in a way I could have only dreamed of when it was only an idea Melony, Susannah, and I were talking about in my car. There are so many people to thank—our brilliant and passionate Biennial team; our tirelessly dedicated Board of Directors; our supremely talented artists and participants; and our incomparable advisors and creative partners. We also want to thank our indispensable supporters—from individuals and governments, to corporations and founding visionaries like the Lassonde Family Foundation—who believed in us and came on board in the most magnanimous way to make this crazy dream a humbling reality.
It has been a long, formidable, and beautiful journey getting here. This project has been and continues to be an incredible gift. Enjoy your Biennial, Toronto! We couldn’t be more thrilled to finally share it with you.
Executive Director, Toronto Biennial of Art
As Board Chair, it is my privilege to welcome you all to the first-ever Toronto Biennial of Art! I am but one board member among a stellar group of women—Jane, Roma, Susan, Lisa, Cathy, Zahra, Kristyn, and Kerry—whose commitment has been exemplary and unwavering.
We have never done this before, and there have been many moving parts on the path to getting here. It goes without saying that an undertaking of this size and scope would not be possible without the support of so many, and of a visionary few who believed in the project when it was a mere idea. This starts with the Biennial’s indefatigable leader, Patrizia Libralato. Her tenacity and personal passion sparked this event, and brought it all the way home. Patrizia has also assembled a team that accepted every challenge and curve-ball thrown its way. Many took a chance, leaving secure positions to be part of something new. Thank you, Biennial team, for your belief and bravery!
Just as it took a prescient City Council in Venice in 1893 to establish the first (and for now, the most celebrated) biennial of art, our event would not have come to be without the early, stalwart support from the City of Toronto. We are also grateful for ground-level assistance from Castlepoint Numa and TD Bank. And a million thanks go out to the Pierre Lassonde Family Foundation for its game-changing gift. Because of the generosity of so many patrons and donors, we are in a position to offer a free 72-day event that reconnects the city to the lakefront, repurposes previously under-used spaces, and partners with incredible institutions across Toronto and Mississauga.
Of course, we also extend a huge thank-you to the Biennial’s brilliant curators, Candice Hopkins and Tairone Bastien, and to the artists who have produced visually engaging works layered with meaning. The Biennial will not shy away from difficult questions, and will, we hope, stimulate conversation about issues that are both timely and timeless.
We hope you explore the Biennial fully and are inspired by what you see!
Chair of the Board, Toronto Biennial of Art
It is my pleasure to extend greetings and a warm welcome to everyone attending the Toronto Biennial of Art, a new international contemporary visual arts event.
Best wishes to all attendees taking part in all of the citywide programs hosted by the Toronto Biennial of Art. This year’s theme allows us to look at the different kinds of relations we have and the importance of having relationships with others in our lives.
This event will showcase artists from around the world while celebrating local and Canadian talent over 72 days of engaging exhibitions, talks and performances.
The arts are an integral component of Toronto’s cultural and economic fabric that enrich and enhance the lives of many.
I am delighted that wonderful events like this are taking place in Toronto. Arts and culture can be incredible forces for the development of an individual, group or community, and they promote intercultural connections including tolerance, understanding, friendship and social cohesion.
On behalf of Toronto City Council, please accept my best wishes for an enjoyable event and continued success.
Mayor, City of Toronto
On behalf of the great City of Mississauga and Members of Council, I am pleased to extend a welcome to all those attending the Toronto Biennial of Art at the Small Arms Inspection Building in Mississauga.
Mississauga is a hub of creativity thanks to the tremendous talent embodied by our local artists. I am pleased that the Biennial has chosen Mississauga as a host venue for its event to showcase the creativity and passion of internationally renowned artists in our city.
Art has the ability to address the issues we face in society, providing both an escape and an outlet. It is often a reflection of society and a mirror of our humanity. As Thomas Merton once wrote: “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” I am looking forward to visiting the exhibitions at Small Arms and elsewhere across the Greater Toronto Area to experience what I’m sure will be thought-provoking and compelling works.
I am a long-time supporter of the arts and, as Mayor, I have made it a pillar of my platform to build the local arts scene in Mississauga. Through the Toronto Biennial of Art, I know we will take another important step toward realizing this goal.
I wish everyone the best of luck for a successful event. Thank you for choosing Mississauga.
Bonnie Crombie, MBA, ICD.D
Mayor, City of Mississauga