They aren’t Art Gallery of Ontario employees, nor do they work with any of the talented teams of tradespeople constructing our new building. However, they may have the best perspective on the spectacular transformation taking place at 317 Dundas Street West.
Each day, hundreds of Toronto’s most eclectic residents gather in Grange Park behind the AGO to practice Tai Chi, walk their dogs, toss around a Frisbee or eat lunch on a picnic table.
These Grange Park regulars, who have witnessed the Gallery’s ongoing transformation first-hand over the past few years, shared their thoughts on the impact they believe Transformation AGO will have on the local community.
“I think it’s cool,” says Jordan Greenstein, an animator who has been working at a local studio for four years. “At first I thought the building was kind of monolithic, but with its transparency and the finishes going on now, I think it complements the scale of its surroundings. I think the neighbourhood is lucky to have buildings like the OCAD and the AGO.”
Martin Erondo also works near Grange Park and has been eating lunch there for the past two years. Martin says the new building “looks quite elegant,” and he especially likes the large windows that offer views into the new centre for contemporary art. “Transformation AGO is very good for the community. When it’s completed, I think people will be drawn to this neighbourhood much more than before.”
Jane Todd works in public affairs at a local attraction. She is impressed that the height of the building doesn’t overwhelm its surroundings. “I think it’s going to look really good when it’s completed, and it’s great that all of this new space is being created to display art.”
When asked about the overall transformation, Jane says she’s very optimistic. “There’s a good balance in the design between boldness and simplicity, and I particularly like the way the Dundas Street facade is coming together.”
James Clarke and Tim Barber have been walking their dogs in Grange Park for years, and look forward to visiting a new Art Gallery of Ontario in 2008. “I think it’s just what the AGO needs,” James replied when asked about the project. “It will be bigger and better, but not too big. It’s great for the community, and apart from some additional traffic, it’s been a relatively painless process for us living in the neighbourhood.”
Tim agrees. “I’ve worked in construction and I’m impressed by just how quiet the site is and how quickly it’s going up. I enjoy chatting with tradespeople about the project and they’re always willing to take a minute to talk about the work they’re doing. I think they’re as impressed by Transformation AGO as everyone else.”
Beverley Carret, AGO’s manager of government and community relations, works to ensure the Gallery remains sensitive to the concerns of the local community. “Our neighbours have been great during the construction period. We are in a residential area so we do our utmost to minimize the impact on those living around us. It’s a big project though, and there’s bound to be some dust and noise. For the most part, our neighbours have been very understanding and I’m very happy to learn that our efforts are paying off.”
A woman who practices Tai Chi in the park every morning, but asked to remain anonymous, had this to say about the project: “We have always enjoyed doing exercises here because the Grange House is a source of very positive energy. We hope that this positivity will remain when the construction is complete.”
Judging by the responses of the people who are most closely connected to the Gallery and the local community, it appears as if the positive energy will be flowing in Grange Park for a long time to come.