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Building Community Through Design: Toronto Design Offsite Festival

Come Up To My Room Installation at the Gladtone Hotel as part of TO DO Toronto

Toronto has long been home to many Canadian designers, architects, and artists, but the Toronto Design Offsite Festival (TO DO) has helped put them on center stage and fostered a public understanding and appreciation for great design. TO DO is an annual week-long independent design festival with a unique arrangement of exhibitions. Unlike the Interior Design Show, which is held in a convention center in Toronto, TO DO's exhibits are spread throughout the city. Beginning in 2011 with just a few venues, TO DO has grown exponentially, with over 60 events, exhibitions, and window installations.

In Come Up To My Room, a highly anticipated annual exhibition that predates the festival but is now featured as part of TO DO, the Gladstone Hotel was transformed through design. Each designer, or group of designers, had free rein to create provocative installations in their assigned room or space in the hallways of the victorian building. Come Up To My Room welcomes new designers each year, increasing the reach of the festival and building the community while providing something exciting to see. The results were inspiring, engaging, and sometimes challenging.

Urban Swath by KRDW in Come Up To My Room at TO DO Toronto

KRDW, a Toronto-based design collective, brought the urban fabric of neighbourhoods in Toronto inside the Gladstone Hotel in Urban Swath. The diagonal cut of urban form across various neighborhoods in the city provided a different perspective of the streets and buildings Torontonians walk next to on a daily basis. Looking at areas I knew on this scale helped connect the urban design and form to the urban feel and my own experience.

In Common Thread, Toronto artist Kathleen Wicks reused discarded wool blankets to challenge us to think about how the environment and economy are at odds because of how society values wealth. Also in the room, she contrasted sheep shearing with consumers on Black Friday in a provocative video. She got me thinking about how I might reuse the material from my ripped jeans.

Tin Canyon by Andrew Foerster in Come Up To My Room at TO DO Toronto

The festival is not simply about taking in the amazing work, but being part of it. In the Junction neighbourhood exhibit entitled Get Your Hands Dirty, passers-by added their charcoal drawing to a collaborative twenty-ft mural. Participatory events like this help to energize and create connections between groups and individuals in the community.

Come Up To My Room Hallway Installation, Toronto Design Offsite Festival

Only four years young, TO DO is a rich festival created by and for the local residents that illustrates the community building effect of a strong arts and cultural presence in the city.

How are arts, culture, and design celebrated and promoted in your city? What has it added to the community?

Credits: Photographs by Lindsay Vanstone. Data linked to sources.