Bishop Tutu murals help residents paint with the same brush

Bishop Tutu murals help residents paint with the same brush

September 14, 2016

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Spend just a few minutes in the courtyard at Bishop Tutu and you'll get a glimpse what a real community looks like.

You'll see seniors chatting with teens, excited toddlers running around the playground, parents and neighbours sharing a laugh.

Residents from the Bishop Tutu community enjoy a community BBQ.

Residents from the Bishop Tutu community enjoy a community BBQ.


Which is why it's so hard to imagine that just a year ago, this very courtyard was the scene of a tragic shooting, a senseless act that left two young men injured and a community shaken.

Despite this unfortunate incident, residents rallied together, vowing to take back their community and regain a sense of unity.

City of Toronto's Community Crisis Response program reached out to the community and Staff from Toronto Community Housing to see how residents could be supported.

"The community came together soon after the shooting to help support each other and come to terms with what happened," said Gaby Motta, Community Development Manager for Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre​.

​"We held four community meetings with residents, community leaders, Toronto Police Services, [MP Candidates] Adam Vaughan and Olivia Chow, [Ward 20 City Councillor] Joe Cressy, Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre and Toronto Community Housing. It was so great to see the community, our neighbours, come together and support each other after what happened."

It was through these meetings that community members pitched to Community Service Coordinators from Toronto Community Housing the idea of having a group of local youth leaders create a community mural. The goal was to not only beautify the neighbourhood but create a project that the whole community could be a part of.

"The youth really led this project from start to finish. They wanted to create a mural that highlighted different aspects of their community - the buildings at Bishop Tutu, the CN Tower, basketball courts, and music," said Gaby.

A variety of community partners including Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre and Toronto Crime Stoppers​ came on board to help make the dream of a mural a reality.

The driving force behind the project was Tenant Leader Jacqueline McLaughlin, a community leader and activist who has been serving residents in the Bishop Tutu area for years. Jacqueline dedicated countless hours to help bring the youth leaders together, organize logistics, speak with community partners and connect residents to the resources they needed to make the project a success. Thanks to her hard work and dedication, the idea for the mural came to fruition.

Gaby Mota, Charmaine Brown, Jacqueline McLaughlin, artist Magic FingaWonG, Karen Warner pose with TCHC CEO Greg Spearn

Left to right: Gaby Motta, Charmaine Browne, artist Magic FingaWonG, Jacqueline McLaughlin,​ and Karen Warner ​pose with Toronto Community Housing CEO (Interim) Greg Spearn (center).

In May, graffiti artist Magic FingaWonG was enlisted to help guide the creative process, sitting down with the youth and sketching out their vision.

Artist Magic FingaWonG works on the Bishop Tutu mural at Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre.​​

Artist Magic FingaWonG works on the Bishop Tutu mural at Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre.


Jannai was one of six youth leaders who helped create the mural. She says the project was a chance for her to give back to her community.

"I took real pride in working on these murals," she says. "I was raised in Bishop Tutu, this is my community, and if you look around you'll see that we don't have any murals around the neighbourhood. So I thought it would be really nice to be a part of something that represents our community and create something meaningful and valuable to us," she said.

Residents and community partners gather at Bishop Tutu to unveil the community murals.

Residents and community partners gather at Bishop Tutu to unveil the community murals.


Residents and partners from across the community banded together to help bring the mural to life. Natasha Francis, Supervisor, Youth and Adult Fitness programs at Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre, worked closely with Bishop Tutu residents, from meeting with the youth artists and engaging the community, to supporting the development of the mural and reaching out to Community Service Coordinators from Toronto Community Housing and staff from the City of Toronto.

The City of Toronto's Community Crisis Response program​ funded the project. Paint supplies and canvases were provided by Toronto Community Housing and youth involved in the project were also awarded a small honorarium for their work.


​Sea-ing is believing


As interest in the project grew, residents and community leaders discussed the idea of expanding the project to include a second mural.

Thanks to a generous donation from the City of Toronto's Community Crisis Response Program, residents secured the art supplies needed to create a second mural.

Now all they needed was an artist to make it come to life.

Greg Watson, a local resident and retired art teacher, was the first person that came to mind.​

Resident and artist Greg Watson poses infront of the community mural he helped create.

Resident and artist Greg Watson poses infront of the community mural he helped create.


"Jacqueline, a tenant rep in this community, came up to me and asked me if I wanted to get involved and help facilitate the project," said Greg.

When asked what the mural should include, Greg said he had the perfect idea.

"My wife and I took our daughters to see Ripley's Aquarium and I had taken a ton of photos. I did a small painting of some of the fish and when Jackie wanted an idea for the project, I thought my painting would be the perfect inspiration for the mural. I thought making it life-size would be a lot of fun," he said.

Each resident chose a particular fish or sea creature that they wanted to paint and many even named their drawings after residents in the community.

Greg says each fish holds a special story.

Shots of the aquatic themed community mural at Bishop Tutu.

Shots of the aquatic themed community mural at Bishop Tutu.


"There's a painting of a turtle that was done by a fellow in our community who has a disability. He made a drawing of a turtle back when he could draw and asked me if I could paint it for him. So that turtle is quite special," Greg shared.

"Another fish on the far end of the mural was designed by a resident who is 82 years old. She drew it when she was younger and asked that I paint it on for her. When she was a young woman, she told me that she had an encounter with a Beluga whale and asked me to paint it to commemorate this one-in-a-lifetime experience she had," he said.

"There's also a black rock fish that was drawn by Howard Cable, he's a famous composer who used to live in one of our buildings. He passed away this year but before he passed, his partner asked him what kind of fish he wanted to paint on the mural. He chose a rock fish and so his partner painted it on the mural for him, he was 94 years old. He actually wrote a song about this fish," Greg said.

About 40 kids from St. Stephen's Childcare Centre also dropped by, adding their handprints to the painting.

Wide shot of community mural on Bishop Tutu​ Blvd.

Wide shot of community mural on Bishop Tutu​ Blvd.​


"We had residents from ages 3 to 94 years take part in the mural," Greg said with a smile.

"It was a fantastic experience for me. Every Tuesday we would meet up in our workshop for two or three hours and those who wanted to take part could come and paint on the canvas. All together it took us about five months to complete the project.

Greg says the mural is a representation of the community and gives residents a sense of pride and ownership.

"They walk by and say 'Oh, that's me' or 'I helped work on that' and they feel like they're a part of the community. I also think it really brightens up the community following such a dark incident and this is sort of a jewel in the middle of our neighbourhood to remind us of our unity," he said.


The big reveal brings out big names

After months of hard work, the two murals were officially unveiled at a community BBQ at Bishop Tutu held on August 28th. Residents, community leaders, agency partners, and members of the Toronto Police Service gathered in the Bishop Tutu courtyard to unveil the two paintings.

Mayor John Tory and Toronto Community Housing CEO (Interim) Greg Spearn also dropped by to take a look at the paintings and speak with the youth and artists involved in the project.​

Mayor John Tory and Toronto Community Housing CEO (Interim) Greg Spearn take a tour of the Bishop Tutu community murals.

Mayor John Tory and Toronto Community Housing CEO (Interim) Greg Spearn take a tour of the Bishop Tutu community murals.


Community members were treated to burgers, hot dogs and grilled corn thanks to members of Toronto Police 14 Division, Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre and our Community Safety Unit.

Residents, members of the Toronto Community Housing's Community Safety Unit and the Toronto Police Service take in the fun.

Residents,members of the Toronto Community Housing's Community Safety Unit and the Toronto Police Service take in the fun at Bishop Tutu's mural unveiling and mural inveiling event.


Fitting with the aquatic theme, Ripley's Aquarium also took part in the fest​ivities, handing out free t-shirts and prizes to residents of all ages.

Along with music, face-painting and live performances, youth leaders and community members involved in the mural project were recognized for their work.

Bishop Tutu community members are recognized for their hard work and dedication at an awards ceremony.

Bishop Tutu community members are recognized for their hard work and dedication at an awards ceremony.


The event was an opportunity for residents of Bishop Tutu to come together, unite their community and celebrate their resilience.

For Jannai, the spirit of the event and the murals on display highlight the true spirit of her neighbourhood.

"To me these murals show how art can bring people together and inspire people from all walks of life to work on something together. We're family, all of us here, and even if you're not family we treat you like family."