Luminato is back: live, in person, and occasionally on the train

Originally conceived as a way to reinvigorate Toronto's arts scene post-SARS, the festival is returning to its initial mission.

The Toronto art fest returns with events in new neighbourhoods and on public transit

In some ways, the 2022 edition of Luminato represents a familiar task. The city-wide art festival was conceived in the mid-'00s, in an attempt to bring people back to Toronto in the wake of the 2002-03 SARS pandemic, launching its first actual festival in 2007. Now, a decade and a half later and after two years as a virtual festival, it's part of a larger effort to do the same thing: reinvigorate culture in the city in the wake of a pandemic.

Of course, some things are different, too. For one, the pandemic in question is very different. SARS didn't cause two years of on-and-off lockdowns and put a near-total halt to live events. 

"We didn't change our habits [for SARS]," says Luminato creative director Naomi Campbell. "We didn't go onto Zoom. We just started using hand sanitizer more. You had to wear a mask if you went into the hospital. That was kind of it. That Rolling Stones concert [SARSstock] happened in July of the year, and SARS happened in like March and April. It was a very different scenario."

Luminato artistic director Naomi Campbell and CEO Celia Smith at Toronto's Union Station, which will be the terminus for the festival's "Art in Transit" project. (Luminato)

The other thing that's different is that the COVID pandemic, despite what you may have heard, hasn't actually ended. It is still very much happening. Because of that, the festival is still taking health precautions, and made certain pandemic-related programming choices, according to creative director Naomi Campbell — like booking fewer non-Canadian artists and performers, requesting that all artists be vaccinated and making masks mandatory backstage. Still, Campbell sees the festival's return as an important part of bringing collective experiences back to the city. 

"Public art experiences create bigger narratives and webs than we're even conscious of at the time," she says. "When you just go because you love that band or you want to see that play or whatever, you're also engaging with your future as well, in a way. That's how you get new friends and have conversations with people that you wouldn't otherwise meet, and you create common experiences with them."

Some of the pieces in this year's festival, including photographer Edward Burtynsky's "In the Wake of Progress" — a large-scale outdoor experience showing humanity's impact on the planet — were originally supposed to be part of the cancelled 2020 festival. Campbell says that for that particular piece, the postponement had a silver lining.

"The show has benefited from the extra time," she says. "Ed and his team have kept working on it. They've adjusted it. I'm super excited to finally see it happen in a public place."

One of Campbell's goals for Luminato is to bring it to more parts of the GTA. This year's festival will feature works in Brampton, Vaughan, and at Woodbine Beach in Toronto's east end. She says it's important to expand the festival to more neighbourhoods because it's increasingly the suburbs, not the downtown, that are producing Toronto's new generation of art stars.

"When you think of the artists who are big international successes from Toronto, they're not all from downtown Toronto," she says. "They're from Brampton, they're from Mississauga, they're from Scarborough. So let's go there. Let's be there. Let's engage with those communities in a realer way."

Another way Luminato is reaching more parts of the GTA is by putting on an event on GO transit. The project, Art in Transit, follows a grumpy, suit-wearing fish. As he takes the train downtown, he encounters dancers, musicians and other performers, who help him get in touch with his true, aquatic nature. The show will be on a different GO line every day.

"The entourage arrives at Union Station and there's a band or a choir or performance troupe that greets them at and helps Fish get to the lake," says Campbell. "The costumes are super magic. It's going to be amazing. There's been some eye-rolling on this one just because it's a little weird and hard to describe, and it's probably not for everybody. I'm sure there'll be some people on the train who are just like, 'Oh my God.' [But] we're not going on the quiet car. We've worked really closely with Metrolinx on this. They've been really super supportive and Union Station's super supportive. And there will be people who this may be their only [Luminato] experience. But it'll be a memorable one. And then the next time they hear about Luminato, they'll go, 'Oh, yeah, right. That's that thing that was on the train.' It's going to be a blast."

Luminato runs June 9–19th in Toronto and the GTA.


Chris Dart

Web Writer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont. In addition to CBC, he's had bylines in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The AV Club, the National Post, Atlas Obscura, Toronto Life, Canadian Grocer, and more.

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