Chief Ladybird and Aura Last mural collaboration for Multipli'city at Underpass Park, photo courtesy Instagram(@chiefladybird)

Every Thursday, Underpass Park at Lower River and King has its Farmers' Market. A series of stalls buzz with a friendly conversation between community members and vendors, children play on the nearby swings and jungle gym, and a guitarist strums through a set of easy listening tunes. The other side of the park—on the east side of Lower River—is occupied by skateboarders and basketball players, making good use of the sports infrastructure the Park boasts. All of this activity and energy in Underpass Park is framed by echoing rows of concrete beams brightened with graffiti murals. The murals depict an array of images–from stylized yet sober portraits of city dwellers to a striking collage of patterns. The murals, many of which are brightly coloured and intricately designed, compliment the liveliness of the park while drawing attention to the structures that make the space possible. 

Artist Kalkidan Assefa working on his mural, photo by Salena Barry

Mural on East side of Underpass Park painted during Live Art Festival, photo by Salena Barry

Mural Detail at Underpass Park, Photo by Salena Barry

Behind the Farmers' Market, some of these beams are their initial industrial grey, others have a fresh coat of paint, and another, flanked by a lift and a paint splattered tarp, shows the beginnings off what appears to be a pink pachyderm. These newly adorned beams are part of a project called Multipli’city which is being carried out in partnership with Mural Routes, StreetART Toronto (StART), Friends of the Pan Am Path, and the Corktown Residents and Business Association (CRBA). The name of the project—Multipli'city—is meant to express the sentiment that "diverse people are the real pillars of Canada", as Mural Routes' Executive and Artistic Director Karin Eaton stated in a press release last month. 

Artist Christopher Ross working on mural, photo by Salena Barry

Multipli'city is not the first mural instalment in Underpass Park. In 2015, Mural Routes managed the Live Art Festival in 2015 where 18 of the underpass pillars east of Lower River were painted live alongside a program of community art activities and performances. The following year, the City commissioned Paul Raff to create the public artwork "Mirage", a honeycombed mirror on the ceiling of the West side of the Underpass.

Underpass Park Farmers' Market, Paul Raff's "Mirage" installation above, photo by Salena Barry

The Multipli'city project, which began in late July, riffs off some of the Canada 150 rhetoric of diversity and inclusion, but is not meant to specifically celebrate the sesquicentennial. The seventeen artists contributing to the project are both representative of the ethos of the project as they are of diverse backgrounds, and they come from across the country: Montreal, Merrick, B.C., Edmonton, Ottawa and of course, Toronto. 

In conversation with the Project Manager Rob Matejka, an independent art administrator and artist associated with Mural Routes, he explained that the artists were not asked to create any specific imagery, but were simply asked to produce figurative images. These guidelines provide the artists plenty of freedom to create murals that will draw on individual subject matter and artistic styles so that the resulting project will be organically varied.

Mural in Progress at Underpass Park, photo by Salena Barry

One of the finished beams is a collaboration between indigenous artists Auralast and Chiefladybird. The work depicts Sky Woman and a Thunderbird. Commenting on a July 26 Instagram post, Chiefladybird writes:" This piece reminds me of a dream I had recently, where an elder's voice said "There is a world that exists above us, beyond our reach, and sometimes the sky people float gifts down to us from there." To me, these gifts come in the form of sisterhood, stories, love, family, medicines, truth. And the things my sister and I create... they're pieces of our truth."

Chief Ladybird and Aura Last mural collaboration for Multipli'city at Underpass Park, photo courtesy Instagram(@chiefladybird)

Multipli'city is scheduled to be completed on August 25th. UrbanToronto will have fuller coverage of the opening event and finished murals.

Related Companies:  Paul Raff Studio, PFS Studio, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, The Planning Partnership, urbanMetrics inc., Waterfront Toronto