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Empty downtown storefronts provide artistic inspiration, chance for revitalization

February 26, 2021   ·   0 Comments

Empty storefronts in Aurora’s Downtown Core have been a perennial problem since businesses started migrating to the Bayview Avenue corridor and elsewhere. But what’s that saying about doing something constructive about lemons? Local artist Corrie Clark is making a large jug of lemonade.

For the past few weeks, Ms. Clark, a resident of the Town Park neighbourhood, has been working behind the papered-up window of the former Caruso’s store, taking inspiration from the store’s more-than-a-century of history. The result is hoped to be the first of many art installations in these empty windows which will form the basis of a “roaming gallery” until these empty units are once again open to customers.

“If you see a problem, you should offer a solution. I saw a problem and obviously this is what the solution was,” says Ms. Clark, who has been working with property owners, the Town of Aurora, Aurora’s Economic Development Board, the Aurora Museum and Archives, and financial support from Magna International to make it all happen. “I thought it would give hope, or even happiness to the people in the drive-by and will give inspiration to be tenanted and this goes right to economic development.

“Instead of looking at a bunch of sad windows and thinking, ‘God, our downtown is terrible,’ it was a question of what could we actually do about the downtown? This gives a sense of community.”

In Ms. Clark’s view, the empty storefronts provide the opportunity for one heck of a gallery space, a step in the right direction for the Town’s vision of turning the historic core into a cornerstone of a “cultural precinct” anchored by Library Square and the cultural institutions part of and surrounding it: The Aurora Public Library, Aurora Cultural Centre, and the Aurora Museum & Archives.

“This is a great way to put in art and make the Cultural Precinct happen,” says Ms. Clark, likening this opportunity to create a cultural hub as an opportunity faced by Stratford, ON, in the 1950s that ultimately led to the community becoming a theatrical and cultural hub in North America.

“When you build Library Square, because it is a Cultural Centre in a sense, it is not just about the building, it is about a community and its people,” she says. “I have the pleasure of living down here, so I see the people walking around, I see the demographic: there are strollers and they are looking for somewhere to go. It is about expanding art in general, not just a narrow street. Art is never a narrow street. It is a wide berth and this, I hope, will generate the whole area so people will walk.”

It is expected this first window mural and art installation at the former Caruso’s site will be formally unveiled late this week or early next week and more installations will be filling storefronts along Yonge Street between Wellington and Mosley Streets in the weeks and months ahead.

Mayor Tom Mrakas had a sneak peek at the work going on behind the paper on Friday afternoon and said art like this will have many offshoot impacts on the community.

“Once you start to put all these pieces together and you see all these art projects coming together, that is what is going to help create this area as a destination,” he said, pointing out this is part of a greater number of activities going on in the area, from the installation of the Rainbow Crosswalk last summer, to future plans to install a canopy of lights over Yonge Street on the same block.

“Then, you throw in the business factor, your economic growth, you have businesses coming in and this area is going to evolve into one where people are going to want to see what is happening, what is going on, and what is in the windows. Let’s go for a walk and see what is happening in the windows. It is an ever-changing, ever-evolving area [in which] artists are continually creating an atmosphere of excitement.”

By Brock Weir
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter



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