The Commons: Public Space, Public Art
Jan 22
Feb 15 2021
DesignTO projectwindow installation in-person

DesignTO Youth is a community engagement program which offers youth access to creative disciplines and professionals, culminating in a public exhibition of their work. This year working in partnership with SKETCH Working Arts, DesignTO Youth focuses on public space and public art. Keen observations and critical conversations about public spaces nurtured the youths’ imagining of ideal futures, and re-imagining of cities, spaces and homes.

Delivered in the form of a six-week residency program plus DesignTO Festival exhibition, youth artists are given opportunities to engage with and discuss civic issues and public space through tours, talks and workshops. The program offered a guided tour of The Bentway with co-executive director Ilana Altman and Public Space fellow Gelila Mekonnen, an artist talk with Ekow Nimako, a guided tour of Stackt Market with founder Matt Rubinoff and architect Janna Levitt, and an empathy mapping workshop with Ryan Lo from Urban Minds.

Established in 2019, DesignTO Youth is a program that provides youth with access to creative disciplines and professionals. The program works with local artists and designers and community collaborators like schools, non-profit organizations, and community groups that are already actively engaging with youth. 

The 2020 DesignTO Youth program is supported by the City of Toronto, Economic Development, and Shopify. Venue provided by Stackt.


Maneesa Veeravel
Longing to Be

We are on the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinaabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, as well as many other Indigenous communities who foster this ecology. My parents fled an ethnic war in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. After a few years, I was born on the ancestral land of the First Nations of the Chippewa of Lake Simcoe (Beausoleil, Georgina Island and Rama) and the Mississauga of the North Shore of Lake Ontario (Alderville, Curve Lake, Hiawatha and Scugog Island) which was ceded under Williams Treaty’s false claims.

This artwork is a meditation on belonging, exploring what it means to be a part of a given space. The 36 hanging papers made of recycled paper, dried leaves, flowers and spices display words and illustrations in ink. Each paper includes the hopes of queer, trans and allied BIPOC folks, weaving a need for intentional spatial design and community building in the commons. A medicinal altar protects these sacred texts with sustainable elements of nature for resistance and a passing nod to history for remembrance. Cities live as social processes that are fluid in nature, the changing parts determine how minorities effect change or are made outsiders in the allocation, enforcement and categorization of space, order, culture and wealth.

I give thanks to the First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education Association of Ontario for the use of audio from their “In our Words” video series.

Maneesa Veeravel is a creative residing on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Wendat, and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. As a Tamil, gender-queer survivor, their work reflects ancestral history, trauma and healing as it pertains to home and belonging. Maneesa holds a Bachelor in Communications, Art and Technology, minor in Sociology, and Certificate of Social Justice from Simon Fraser University. They’ve published and performed poetry, screened short films, displayed soundscapes, exhibited their art, facilitated workshops and more. Maneesa values resourcing, creative expression and mindful experiences like hiking, painting, kneading and lying on flat surfaces, or critically consuming commodities.

Sol Amarillo
Our sadness is political

A series of six ink blots, marked by crime scene markers, direct the viewer toward the print. Each marker contains a fragment of text [1] that exposes the consequences of “the crime” that affects us all. This linograph lies in the foreground; it presents us with a skeleton that can be seen holding the moon in allusion to the archetypal representation of the XVIII and XIII tarot cards. “The moon” is a representation of sadness, fear and anxiety. “The Death” symbolizes a necessary point of profound transformation without return.

Although depression and other mental illnesses are more present in my generation than in any other, I believe that the sadness of my generation is political, and a consequence of living in a deeply violent and hierarchical world. I think this sadness is trying to communicate something to us; realizing the injustices of the world is overwhelming, but at the same time the possibilities that arise from recognizing these problems can be a new beginning. We know that extreme inequality in the world is not a matter of poverty but of the concentration of wealth that renders any economic power into a political one. I see my generation questioning everything, inventing their own ways of living and existing in the world; we are breaking all the established paradigms, healing our ancestors, doing birth strikes, transforming language, dreaming and building other realities.

[1] Mark Fisher (2008) “Capitalist Realism, is there no alternative?” Zero books editorial.

Sol Amarillo is a Mexican interdisciplinary person and maker who has had experience as workshop facilitator in different topics such as popular education, theatre of the oppressed, and lino printing. She has also participated as a co-organizer of forums, workshops, and various other cultural and political events. Her artwork skills include printmaking, paint, embroidery, craft making, and amateur hand poke tattooing. You can find her on Instagram as @gubia_heretika.

Lana Yuan
Skinny Elephant

Skinny Elephant uses “thin-legged elephants” as a metaphor for the visual and mental image of a group in isolation. I was inspired by Salvador Dali’s elephant motifs. The elephants have exaggerated, long, spindly legs, making them look weightless, weak and crumbling while walking forward.

Lana Yuan (born in China, based in Toronto) is a kinetic installation artist. Yuan holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto, in the specialist program in Studio Art. She demonstrates her contemplation of accelerated technological development, and how it affects human habitual activities in a big way, by fabricating and reassembling manufactured objects like toys and furniture.

Danielle Tullo
The Talent Pool

This series represents the difficulty and likelihood of being successful as a working artist. Playing with the idea of being immersed in a swimming pool, crowded and over-capacity with other great swimmers. Without the room to paddle your arms or kick your feet, you are all drowning together. Mirroring that in art, it’s the concept that just because we’re all talented doesn’t mean we are all likely to be recognized for it. Just because we can swim doesn’t mean we’ll be able to.

Danielle Tullo is a non-binary cyborg artist and chronic homelessness survivor of Toronto, working tirelessly to bring us through the motions of their own challenging feelings, artificially and intelligently, retelling the hardest parts of their story. They take us through their life’s themes of margin-walking, gender roles, co-dependency, toxic relationships and transient lifestyle. Originally practicing art therapeutically, albeit compulsively, Danielle is ever resilient in nature and committed to life-long learning, refining of skills old and new.

Priya “Pree” Rehal

This piece was intended to be significantly longer than it is wide, much like the landscape of central downtown Toronto. In an effort to hide the seam between the two watercolour sheets I used for the base, I decided to paint the fixtures elsewhere and then paste them into the existing scene. I wanted to carry this technique throughout the piece to create natural shadows with that stacked, cramped feeling of the city centre. I intended for the shades of grey to represent the monotony of the city’s Financial District. The tall buildings with several vacant units, while protestors are demanding justice, is my version of Toronto. Homeless and houseless folks can’t shelter-in-place (SIP) when they don’t have a place to call home. But why do they have to live in precarious situations when so many hotels, condo units and the SkyDome are empty?

This work is inspired by The Commons residency, and all the thoughts that ran through my mind about open spaces throughout the city that could be used for alternative or affordable housing, rather than retail or museum spaces. I love galleries, museums and exhibits, or shopping to “treat myself,” but Toronto is in the middle of an airborne pandemic, and now is the time to decomodify housing, provide basic income, and also abolish the police while we’re at it.

I think if folks realized they have more in common with community members experiencing homelessness rather than millionaires or billionaires, the world might be a slightly nicer place.

Pree (they/them) is an artist educator currently based in Tkaronto, originally from Tiohtià:ke. They’re a child of immigrant settlers from Punjab. Pree’s work is an ode to their extended youth as a trans and non-binary person, while also painting love letters to their inner child, and affirming their queer, disabled, and fat self. Their main medium is watercolour, but Pree also embroiders, creates short films, writes and performs drag. They have an interdisciplinary arts practice under the name Sticky Mangos (@StickyMangos on Instagram), and co-founded the Non-Binary Colour Collective. Their work has been featured in CBC, Xtra magazine, BlogTO and Salty.

Aidan Dolan

‘IM LEARNING MY DIAGONALS’ is a short text-based animation, hand painted in gouache. A speck appears in the top left corner and grows, forming the phrase “IM LEARNING MY DIAGONALS” and expanding to fill the entire frame. The text describes the artist’s experience of walking through the city, avoiding the gridlike pattern of streets and opting instead for “desire paths” through back alleys, green spaces, and lesser-known shortcuts through neighbourhoods. To arrive at this phrase, the artist has been collecting idioms related to walking and snippets of text associated with specific sites in Toronto, taking them apart and piecing them back together in an effort to tell the story of how they traverse the city on their walks.

Aidan Dolan (b. 1995, Tkaronto) is a queer arist and design school dropout. Aidan primarily makes text-based drawings, paintings and animations using their phone, markers or gouache.

‘The Commons: Public Space, Public Art’ is one of the many exhibitions and window installations happening at Stackt Market as part of the 2021 DesignTO Festival. Stackt Market is open Tuesday to Sunday from 12-7pm.


Sol Amarillo, Aidan Dolan, Priya "Pree" Rehal, Danielle Tullo, Maneesa Veeravel, Lana Yuan



Who should visitors contact with questions regarding accessibility?
Sam Thumm
Can people get to the venue using accessible transit?
DesignTO Youth visit to The Bentway, artwork by Public Visualization Studio in collaboration with Lilian Leung