Revitalizing Spaces and Building Community Through Public Art

Revitalizing Spaces and Building Community Through Public Art

Friday, December 3, 2021

A soaring image of a falcon on the side of an office building, reflecting the city in its steely gaze.

A public bench designed to mirror the landscape of a nearby ravine. A 12-storey mural of an enigmatic figure that, upon closer inspection, depicts the city it towers over in miniature. These works of public art are just a few examples of how Slate Asset Management has partnered with artists to revitalize neighborhoods across Canada, from Halifax to Calgary.

As a real estate investor and operator, our objective is to create places where our people and tenants thrive, and to contribute to our communities. Since 2016, we have sponsored dozens of public art projects of all shapes and sizes, from towering building-sized murals to rotating lobby sculptures. These art installations are not piecemeal projects – they are part of a holistic strategy for creating long-term value for our investors, tenants and the surrounding community. 

Not only does public art strengthen a community’s identity and foster a sense of local pride, it also elevates a neighborhood’s cultural relevance, reputation and aesthetic appearance. In this way, public art contributes to tenant satisfaction, tourism and economic vitality, and stronger capital appreciation for our investors. It’s an investment that equally benefits all of our stakeholders. 

Most recently, we partnered with the muralist BirdO, the Beltline Urban Murals Project (BUMP) and the Calgary Downtown Association to create a new mural at 441 5th Avenue, which was completed in August. BirdO is best known for surreal, large-scale murals that combine imagery of animals and geometric shapes. And in Calgary he did not disappoint. A peregrine falcon, native to the city’s famous Bow River valley, was selected as the subject. 

We were also excited to see the completion of another project in August, nearly 5,000 kilometers away on Canada’s east coast. In this case, we commissioned Halifax artist John McPartland, known as ABSEN, to create a mural on the exterior wall of the city’s Maritime Centre that depicts Nova Scotia’s spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. The mural features vibrant blue tones and draws on the metaphor that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ to showcase the character of this coastal province and the evolving maritime industries that have made it a prominent global player.

Engaging our tenants and the local community is always a critical part of creating a public art installation. In Calgary, BirdO created an online portal where residents could share their ideas for the mural before work got underway. In some cases, feedback comes in real time. 

When we undertook our first major public art project in 2016, a mural by renowned international street artist Phlegm at 1 St. Clair West in Toronto, we started by engaging with city officials, community representatives, and local non-profit StreetARToronto to shape the concept. But when the artist began his work, he started to receive suggestions and requests on social media from local residents and building tenants, who wanted to see their little piece of Toronto depicted in the mural. To the delight of the community, Phlegm was able to incorporate suggestions into his final design, in real time. The end result was worth it. Seen by roughly 100,000 people every day, Toronto Life magazine described the work as “sublime” and “a living, breathing portrait of Toronto”. Canadian art charity STEPS has credited the mural with transforming the area into a cultural destination. 

We built on this success by commissioning a 10-storey mural by BirdO at 1 St. Clair East, a surrealist homage to the surrounding Deer Park neighbourhood that was completed in 2019. Other projects in the area have included street art, construction hoarding, and special exhibitions in support of charitable organizations.

In addition to creating opportunities for tenants and residents, Slate makes a deliberate effort to work with artists from diverse backgrounds who reflect the communities where the firm operates. We have also partnered with Friends of Ruby, an organization dedicated to the well-being of LGBTQI2S youth, to create art therapy programs, as well as public art projects in support of the Brain Project, Earth Day, and breast cancer research. 

We’ve found that these projects are also meaningful for Slate employees. We have a diverse team of people who are deeply invested in making the cities in which they live better. In many instances, we empower them to get involved and even lead these projects, giving employees the chance to leave a mark on their city and engage with the community. It’s a virtuous circle that we’re privileged to be a part of.

When Slate commissioned its first large-scale mural in Toronto in 2016, it was one of the only murals of its size in the city. Since then, many others have been completed. Just as art is continually evolving, we are focused on creating new and innovative ways for our tenants to participate in art. For example, in another first of its kind, we commissioned eight unique pieces of digital art in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) by critically acclaimed artist Petra Cortright for the eight penthouse residences at our new One Delisle development in Toronto.

Re-imagining properties and neighborhoods that others overlook has always been central to our value-creation approach. Whether it’s through traditional mediums, or new digital avenues, our investment in public art will continue to benefit our tenants, communities and investors for decades to come.

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