Leona Drive homes become a canvas for artists

Sometimes art is found in the most unusual of places.

Like your own backyard.

Residents of Leona Drive, near Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue, know that perfectly well after homes slated for demolition were transformed into artistic canvases in late October.

Created by 21 artists, researchers and local high school students, the Leona Drive Project is an exhibition with a twist, examining the theme of transition and neighbourhood history.

Consisting of five unoccupied bungalows, artists created interactive art installations in and around the former homes.

Curators Janine Marchessault, Michael Prokopow and a mixed group of doctoral students from various universities came up with the idea for the project when they noticed a large amount of redevelopment in Willowdale.

“(The exhibition) enables us to look at the old suburb and think about the future suburb, because these are places that are going to disappear and be replaced,” Marchessault says.

The five homes used in the exhibit will be demolished by developer Hyatt Homes in the next few months and eventually replaced with eight single-family dwellings. Developers are awaiting final approval from the city.

Leona Drive neighbours have been incredibly supportive of the art project, Marchessault says.

“Those houses were derelict for seven years, and we’ve gone in there and cleaned it up,” Marchessault says. “I think (the neighbours) are interested in the history — their houses also belong to that history.”

The only house with room-to-room installations was 9 Leona Dr., where the late Ruth Gillespie lived for 40 years.

After her death in 2003, some of her belongings were left behind, so several artists incorporated them into the exhibition. The bathroom is completely covered in red lipstick to examine the blurred line between empowerment and objectification. Ruth was known to wear bright red lipstick.

Former Leona Drive resident Bettie Burnette is pleased the houses are serving an artistic purpose instead of sitting neglected surrounded by overgrowth.

She said the neighbourhood hasn’t changed much from the time she moved there in 1949.

“I think younger families were moving in, possibly because the houses were more obtainable than some of the big homes they were putting up,” she says. “It’s a great area.”

One popular installation was the 1980’s Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser station wagon parked on the driveway at 9 Leona Dr. Inside was a projection of an episode of 1950’s sitcom Father Knows Best.

Artist David Han dubbed several languages into the episode to represent the multiple ethnicities in the area.

The Arbour Lake School, a group of Calgary artists who build homes, took apart 17 Leona Dr.’s backside and used the raw materials to create a small village with various concepts of shelter.

An Te Liu designed the Monopoly house, painted green to look like a play piece from the popular board game.

Marchessault says it’s a commentary on where modern development is headed and questions the motives behind it.

Robin Collyer’s subtle public meeting sign on the front lawn of 15 Leona addresses the lost art of “designing communities that are communities, where people are committed to taking care of the place in which they live,” Marchessault says.

The exhibition is over but some installations are still up.

About this article:

By: Jordana Stier
Posted: Nov 13 2009 1:27 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto