Thursday, 23 October 2014




Editor's Note: Rachel Leaton is a second year MMSt student who received her BA (honours) in History majoring in Museum Studies from the University of Western Ontario. She has an interest in both history and art history, having interned at Museum London and worked for the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives as well as the Peel Region Police's historical object collection. If you are a Museum Studies student engaged in research for a work, volunteer, or school project that you would like to share, please contact Robin Nelson.

This research is from a paper written for MSL2340H Issues in Cultural Policy and Contemporary Culture. My paper looked at public art in the Toronto subway system.

Public transit systems are part of urban living and they require unique design considerations. The primary concern of design in transit systems is efficiency and rapid service. While a transit system must be able to accommodate multitudes of people, the community around the space needs to be able to view these spaces as constructive. The relationship that Toronto has with the subway began in 1954 with the subway going from Union Station to Eglinton. While this subway was loved, it was a utilitarian space and did not feature design beyond an attempt to make the space open and allow for the movement of people.

Subway systems around the world use art and design to improve their buildings. Instead of one look that they are known for, Toronto's subway has gone through many different models and each phase reflects a different approach, making it a rich ground for study. There have been periods when the artwork in the Toronto subway has been placed in a very top down manner. Yet, there have also been periods when the work has been done in a very community based manner.

There are two projects, which fit under the top down model. The first example is the 1978 Spadina line renovation. The second is the Arts-on-Track program, which produced the renaissance of Museum station.

This is one of the more enigmatic and popular pieces front he 1978 renovation, James Sutherland's Spadina Summer Under All Seasons. James Sutherland. 1978 'Spadina Summer.' Toronto Transit Commission. From Transit Toronto.

The 1978 mass renovation of the Spadina subway line was a first for the TTC. They chose prominent Canadian artists who produced diverse pieces. These art works were framed as Toronto joining the ranks of world-class cities with beautiful and renowned subway systems. However, the renovation of the Spadina line in 1978 included several pieces that had to be removed and did not continue after the initial investment.

View of Museum Station showing the themed columns which reflect both the ROM and the Gardiner Museum. Rachel Leaton, 2014.
The Art-on-Track program formed in 2005 to renovate three stations of the Young-University-Spadina line. The three stations were chosen for their proximity to major Toronto cultural landmarks, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Gardiner museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Four Seasons Opera House. While the stations reflect the area, the stations chosen are selective and only Museum Station was ever realized.

A view of the mirrors from Source/Derivations by Allan Harding MacKay. Rachel Leaton 2014.

The other model, which can be seen in the Toronto subway, is a community model. This is a model that is being used by the TTC as they renovate and built new stations. The renovation of Pape station provides an example of how art can be introduced into subway stations. The station was renovated to provide better access for those with disabilities. This allowed the opportunity to renovate the appearance of the station, which they did by installing art by Canadian artist Allan Harding MacKay titled “Source/Derivations”. This work displays manipulated images from around the station printed on mirrors. This model is more sustainable as stations are always going to need to be upgraded (due to new technology and laws) and the TTC is putting away funds to allow for art to be introduced as well.

The next project in this community approach is the murals, which have been made for the construction hoarding on the renovations at Coxwell and Woodbine stations by the Young Artists in Transit project. These murals have been painted by local youth under the guidance of artists Jim Bravo and Andrenne Finnikin. They focus on the themes and history of the community. While these works are only temporary pieces they show a commitment to bringing the community into the process of change happening to the subway stations. These murals also show an understanding of the length of time and the amount of destruction that renovations can have on the space.

Mural Projects at Coxwell and Woodbine. Young Artists in Transit. 2013. From Toronto Transit Commission.
My research arrived at the conclusion that the community-based model is preferable both for its financial and infrastructural sustainability as well as for the way it involves the community. The next time you are on the subway, or any designed space really, I urge you to look around and think of how the surroundings make you feel. Why do they make you feel this way? How could it be improved? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments below.

Sources consulted

Ewing, Reid and Keith Bartholomew. 2013. Pedestrain & Transit Oriented Design. Washington: Urban Land Institute and American Plannning Association.

McIlveen, Eli. 2010. 'Art on the TTC.' Transit Toronto, Public Transit in the GTA Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Last modified March 17.

Metropolitan Toronto. 1978. Spadina Subway Art and Architecture Tour. Toronto: Toronto Transit Commission.

Status Report Arts on Track University Subway Renaissance Program. 2008. Toronto: Toronto Transit Commission.

The TTC Story: Transit in Toronto, The story of the development of public transportation in Toronto, from horse cars to a modern, high speed subway system.1969. Toronto: Toronto Transit Commission.

Toronto Transit Commission. 2013a. 'Pape Station Improvements'

Toronto Transit Commission. 2014. 'TTC Mural Projects at Coxwell and Woodbine.'

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