Why Artists-In-Residence Make Sense for Parks

One of the things that draws us to parks is that they give us the chance to step back from our daily lives and return to the world just a little better. That’s partly why arts make sense in parks. As Picasso said” “art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Together, art and parks give life a major power-wash.

Together, art and parks give life a major power-wash.

Our recent blog showcased the benefits the arts make for parks and communities, but here, I want to zoom in on how the artistic community flourishes when urban parks become public stages.

Let’s look at two very different arts initiatives happening in Toronto parks this summer–one in a 20,000 acre Urban National Park, and the other in a small community parkette in a neighbourhood on the Danforth.

A Tale of Two (Very Different) Urban Parks and Artists:

Vista Sunset. Heike Reuse. July 7 2016 (87)

Photo Credit: Heike Reuse

Rouge National Urban Park is Canada’s first National Park right smack in the city. Unlike many national parks that are tucked away in remote parts of the country, Rouge National Urban Park is in close proximity to 20 percent of Canada’s population. Its urban setting means that the Rouge can build connections with the kind of people and institutions that are rooted in cities.

Parks Canada has a long history of documenting its parks, but the Rouge saw an opportunity to find what Omar McDadi, the park’s External Relations Manager called “Canada’s next Edward Burtynsky.” Parks Canada wanted to create a Photographer-In-Residence program to capture the park for posterity, but also to create a launching pad for a budding photographers’ career.

Omar and Parks Canada pitched the concept of a Photographer-in-Residence to the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) University. OCAD loved the idea and helped the Rouge find and employ, up and coming photographer Heike Reuse. Heike has landed an 8 month internship as Rouge National Urban Park’s Photographer-in-Residence and is charged with capturing everything from the Rouge’s natural vistas, to wildlife, to people enjoying the park (the park had over 30 events in July alone).

Heike’s internship is culminating into a photography show featuring images from The Rouge, produced in partnership with OCAD some time in the fall.


Photo Credit: Heike Reuse

In a parkette across the city, bordering Toronto’s Danforth neighbourhood, artist Jerry Silverberg is laying out art supplies for the next batch of kids arriving at Phin Avenue Parkette for Art in Phin Park. Like Heike, Jerry is the parkette’s Artist-in-Residence.

Art in the park - 2016 printmaking jerry demonstrating

When Jerry’s long career as a visual and theatre artists began to wind-down, he approached The Pocket Community Association and proposed a free summer art program for neighbourhood kids in his beloved local park. Jerry secured funding from the Toronto Arts Council through their Community Arts granting stream and was part of this summer’s Arts in the Parks initiative through the Toronto Arts Foundation.

Every day, 15-30 kids from local day camps and the neighbourhood come to the park and join Art in Phin Park to learn drawing, painting, sculpture, theatre, storytelling, puppetry, mask making and stencil. Jerry’s also invited special guests for early evening performances that are targeted to adults and children, encouraging families to experience art together.

Two very different parks and two very different artists. What are the common elements that make park-based Artist-in-Residence programs so great for artists and artistic communities?

New Artistic Experiences Build New Skills:

Vista Sunset. Heike Reuse. July 7 2016 (199)

Photo Credit: Heike Reuse

Heike Reuse shot the photograph above after setting out to capture a sunrise in Rouge National Urban Park. The sunrise was disappointing but an eerie fog caught Heike’s attention and she switched gears to capture it. “It takes a lot of patience to experience something amazing” Heike says. Shooting in parks has helped Heike build and flex a new muscle that helps her remain open to new ideas and welcome the unexpected in her work.

In Phin Avenue Parkette, Jerry welcomes kids who shyly saunter over to his program with the explanation: “We’re making art.” It’s notable that he doesn’t say “we’re making puppets or we’re making books.” Jerry thrives on helping kids understand that “Art making happens everywhere.”

Art in the park - 2016 collage week 2 clown collage

The element of surprise helps unlikely suspects engage in art making.  Kids may not be lured to the park with the promise of art, but they benefit all the same.

As Intermission Magazine recently made the following case for Arts education: “People who have had authentic arts experiences understand how to innovate, how to be creative, and how to be empathetic. They’re good people and I think we need more good people in the world.” Children and adults who engage in Art in Phin Park come away with new skills that are applicable to many aspects of daily life. And, unlike some traditional forms of learning, kids learn while having fun.

Park Programs Support Artists and Shape their Talents:  

OCAD’s Career Launcher program was designed to give OCAD grads a solid start in their careers. The Photographer-In-Residence position in the Rouge has helped Heike build her portfolio, her profile and her networks. “Lots of people do this type of thing in their spare time, but I get to do it every day and get paid,” Reuse told Metro. “It’s been a dream.” While Heike set out  to focus her career on what she calls “fine-art photography that appears on gallery walls,” Heike says her work in the Rouge has cultivated a new interest in pursuing a career in wildlife photography.


Photo Credit: Heike Reuse

Jerry Silverberg is at a very different stage in his career. After 30 years running a touring theatre company,  Jerry Silverberg was looking for a way to continue working with kids on a part time basis. Nearing 60, Jerry wanted to slow down, but was determined keep arts education central to his life.
Jerry applied and received TAC’s Community Arts grant to support “Art practiced at a community level.” The grant covered the costs of supplies and some of his time and some administrative costs. Partnering with the Toronto Arts Foundation through their Arts in the Parks program helped spread the word about Art in Phin Park. “I’m 66 years old,” confesses Jerry, “but when I’m working, I’m 18.”  Now in its third year, this Artist-in-Residence program keeps Jerry sharing his gifts with the community.

Partnerships Build New Connections : 

OCAD University, a school dedicated to Art and Design, has forged a new connection to Parks Canada through Rouge National Urban Park. OCAD students, faculty, art lovers and the local community will congregate at the art opening in the fall and will leave with new knowledge and insights about the National Park just down the road.  Also, Heike hopes that more people will see the valuable intersection between art and nature, and take a camera along as they explore the parks’ trails. This makes art more relevant to whole new communities of interest.


Photo Credit: Heike Reuse. 

Art is often seen as rarified and inaccessible. Many people have never set foot inside an artists’ studio. However, Jerry describes his studio as “three park benches underneath a chestnut tree.” Jerry’s park-based studio brings art to the Danforth and, as he puts it “brings the community to art.” As Artist-in-Residence, Jerry creates meaningful opportunities for children and adults to embrace creativity and artistic expression. This connection not only benefits communities, but artists, who can find new audiences for their work.

[This initiative is part of Park People’s Sparking Change Program, which works to create green community hubs in underserved neighbourhoods. It is made possible with generous support from TD Bank Group, The John and Marion Taylor Family Fund, City of Toronto, Cultural Hotspot, Toronto StreetArt, Toronto Arts Foundation, Toronto Community Housing and Ontario Trillium Foundation.


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