The STEPS Initiative is an award winning public arts organization that builds the capacity of people to take action in creating more vibrant and connected communities through what we call public space ARTivism. We use art to connect people to public spaces, by:
- Reimagining under-utilized spaces into canvases for public art
- Articulating creative solutions to urban challenges
- Leading large-scale public space revitalizations
- Leveraging local community assets; as well as
- Building the capacity of youth and emerging artists
We believe that public spaces, as unmediated sites of interaction between diverse communities, are eroding. Art can not only aesthetically transform these spaces, but also serve as a common language with which people can create shared spaces that foster civic engagement. As such, we provide a platform for Torontonians to lead initiatives that validate their personal experiences, their community’s cultures and histories, and their concern for social and environmental issues, all while transforming their community’s public spaces.
We have been in operation since 2011, largely as an incubated project of the Centre for Social Innovation, but in 2014 we incorporated as an independent non-profit organization, and in 2016 we registered as a charity. While we are a young organization, over that time, we have led several large scale public art installations across the city and engaged thousands of community members of all ages. Having been honoured with the 2015 (inaugural) Creativity Award from ArtBridges - a national organization supporting Canadian arts for social change - for our innovative programming recently launched the first community cultural space along Toronto’s Waterfront with three other arts organizations - called Art Hub 27, the base from which we reach far and wide across Toronto.
While our programming has not been exclusively limited to youth, much of our successful programming to date has been youth-driven, with the primary participants being lower-income, newcomer, racialized youth in the Toronto area. One of our greatest capacity building endeavours to date has been our Emerging ARTivist Program, a workshop and capacity building program for young people, which has resulted in several large-scale youth-led projects and the incubation of an award-winning youth-led arts collective called the Toronto Emerging ARTivists or TEA, recipients of numerous awards, including the 2014 Nxt City Prize.
In early 2014, we were awarded the national Culture Days Innovative Event Award for the unveiling of our World’s Tallest Mural. This youth-led project, transformed a 32 storey modernist social housing building into a giant vertical canvas, and its completion was celebrated by over 1000 members of the community.
That same year, we were awarded the Best Social Enterprise Award by OCADU’s Imagination Catalyst, for our innovative work transforming underused spaces (like construction sites and empty storefronts) across Toronto into an ongoing curated exhibit as part of our PATCH Project, and its associated Portfolio Development Program, which builds the capacity of emerging artists to exhibit in the public realm. As a full service public arts agency PATCH improves the urban experience for local residents and visitors alike by transforming vacant urban spaces into an ongoing curated exhibition. Our clients have included: Infrastructure Ontario, Tridel, Freed, Cresford, Context, Bazis, and Tricon.
More recently, we received considerable media attention for our collaboration with celebrated British artist Phlegm, for transforming Toronto’s midtown community with an 8 storey mural at Yonge & St. Clair.
STEPS prides itself in offering programming that sits at the intersection of public art, urban planning and civic engagement. We try to bridge those gaps by fostering unlikely conversations and building capacity for these groups to work together whenever possible in Toronto and beyond.