World’s Tallest Mural – 200 Wellesley St

Over the summer of 2013, this youth-led art installation transformed a 32 story modernist social housing building into a vertical canvas for the world’s tallest mural through the engagement of hundreds of community members.

The mural’s design incorporates the motif of a bird soaring up, emblematic of a phoenix rising, to counter the negative stereotypes associated with St. James Town, alongside designs that represent themes of diversity, accessibility, local culture, safety and happiness weaved into its lower sections. Local artist and 200 Wellesley Street resident, George McIntyre says “I have never seen so many people stop by and look at our building.”

The mural is the culmination of STEPS’ Emerging ARTivist Program, which took place in the community for the year preceding the work’s unveiling in September 2012. Over 50 young people from the St. James Town community and hundreds of community members have been involved in the project in various ways. Internationally renowned artist, Sean Martindale worked with community members of all ages to help develop the mural’s design as the lead artistic facilitator. Dora, a 200 Wellesley tenant who has added her own designs onto the mural, says that it has been a pleasure to take part in this project and be recognized for it by her neighbours, “Everyone who sees my sunflowers tells me how much they like them!” Numerous other residents have shown immeasurable support, saying that the mural is “the best thing that’s happened here,” and that it has given the community a “brand new look.”

Local officials were very supportive. “Congratulations to everyone involved in this exciting project that will add vibrancy to the Wellesley community,” says Mayor Rob Ford. “Beautification of our public spaces is an essential component of building and maintaining healthy communities,” said Councillor Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre – Rosedale).  “This spectacular mural is a shining example of the resiliency and creativity of the young people of St. James Town, and stands as a beacon of pride in their community on display for all of Toronto to enjoy.”

The building, which possesses a complicated history, is located near a busy intersection that sees a high volume of car, transit, cycling and pedestrian traffic – is currently unmemorable and often difficult for residents and users of the Community Corner (an agency on its main floor) to find.  The mural has already turned the building into a celebrated local landmark since it is visible from many tall buildings across Toronto’s downtown core (a rare occurrence for the City’s street art, which tends to be located at ground level). Jason Rouleau and Ryan Dineen of the Toronto Muralists painted the mural’s upper sections.

Emerging ARTivist youth members gathered stories from building residents, which have been incorporated into the base of the mural’s design. Although the greater design is that of a phoenix, it is comprised of smaller, more detailed sections, each of which showcases the diversity of the community.

The project’s completion was celebrated with a Culture Days event on September 28, 2013, planned in collaboration with the St. James Town Festival and attracted several thousand members of the community with a variety of arts and cultural activities, including screen-printing of the phoenix design onto clothing and other fabrics. The event was awarded PanAm Ignite status and has been nominated for a Culture Days Award.

This project was funded by the City of Toronto’s StreetARToronto program and the Ontario Arts Council, with generous contributions from the Toronto Muralists, Dulux Paints, and Skyway Canada.