Arts·How To

There's a giant art party coming to Honest Ed's, and here's how to be a part of it

Festival organizers are encouraging anyone and everyone to submit their ideas for immersive art projects. Here are some tips and creative prompts to get you started.

If you have an idea for an immersive art project, this is a 'once in a lifetime' chance

Honest Ed's has become an icon in Toronto's Annex neighbourhood. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Honest Ed's is hosting a four-day art party in February, and everyone's invited.

The event, fittingly enough, is called Toronto for Everyone, and from February 24-26 it'll take over the iconic department store's 160,000 square foot space.

That's two months after the landmark officially closes shop — so before its 23,000 marquee lights go dark, and before the building and its surrounding 'hood gets flattened for a new retail/residential development, this will be your last chance to "come in and get lost," as the slogan goes.

It really is a once in a lifetime opportunity, because once the building's gone, it's gone.- Hima Batavia, co-producer of Toronto for Everyone

Organizers promise there'll be music, there'll be a 19+ party, there'll be markets (though no word on whether the items are "Cheap! Cheap! Cheap!").

And as if the sprawling building weren't already enough like a circus funhouse (albeit one with drop ceilings, fluorescent lights and bins of 99-cent "ladies fashion pants"), event producers plan to build a "maze" inside the complex — a collection of immersive and interactive projects meant to transport visitors to the city's past, present and future.

(David Donnelly/CBC)

The four-day event is the brainchild of a Toronto community centre and idea incubator, the Centre for Social Innovation. CSI's Hima Batavia is the co-producer of Toronto for Everyone and helped develop the curatorial vision for the event. Earlier this week, they launched a call for projects.

"It really is a once in a lifetime opportunity, because once the building's gone, it's gone," she says.

Artists of all kinds are being asked to send in their proposals by December 2 — and in the spirit of the event, anyone and everyone is encouraged to participate. That includes new voices and those who've never considered themselves artists before.

The whole event, Batavia explains, "is anchored on the idea of inclusivity" — something Honest Ed's has represented for generations of Torontonians. "It was a place for everyone," she says, especially newcomers — from immigrant families to students buying pots and pans (and maybe an Elvis bust) for their first apartment.

People line up outside Honest Ed's store in Toronto as part of a turkey giveaway. (CBC News)

And that idea of openness applies to the festival's call for projects, too. Batavia says her team is working to recruit artists and collectives that "represent the diversity of the city" — all communities, all age groups, all abilities. They're doing grassroots outreach with community centres throughout the city, and info sessions for potential participants are scheduled to happen at CSI locations on November 22 and 24.

(David Donnelly/CBC)

"We want to encourage people of all walks of life in the city to participate because I really believe Honest Ed's belongs to all of us," she says.

So how do you become a part of it all?

If you're interested in making something for the festival, there are a few opportunities available. You could apply to be part of a collaborative artistic residency — up to 10 people will be selected to create a team project, one that will totally transform a large space in the store. Where, exactly, is up to the group — maybe the staircases, or maybe the entire grocery department.

Go wild! This is such a blank canvas. It's a playground.- Hima Batavia, co-producer of Toronto for Everyone

Or, you could pitch a "public experience" — one of the many "immersive and interactive" projects that will be part of "the maze" inside the building. It could involve video projection, theatre, dance, photography, you name it.

If you're intrigued, but aren't quite sure where to start, Batavia shared these tips and creative prompts to help you with your pitch.

The hand-painted, pun-laden signs at Honest Ed's have been part of the discount department store's iconic brand for more than half a century. (CBC)


"Really develop what your point of view is. Think about the curatorial vision and start to deconstruct the idea of, 'What do you think inclusivity is? What is your take on gentrification and the changing landscape of retail and consumption in Toronto?' I would start to break that down."

Hang out at Honest Ed's!

"Go to the space and let it inspire you in itself."

Ask yourself: What does Honest Ed's mean to you — and Toronto?

"I think we are so drawn to Honest Ed's because it has such a strong voice.  And so think about, 'How can you be zany? How can you be unpredictable and surprising?' Use things like puns and humour in order to engage people in the way that Ed Mirvish did. Really, really try to capture the essence of what Honest Ed's is."

Activate the 5 senses

"Can you create or propose something that is multisensory, that's immersive, that's interactive, that really engages people? When you think about transforming the space into a maze, we kind of want to take people through an experience of the space they haven't had before."

Ask yourself: How can I create a sense of belonging?

"Try to foster a feeling of community and inclusivity. Those are really core tenets of CSI and when we think of the experience we want to create and what Honest Ed's really stood for: it's a sense of belonging and a sense of community. So how can you leave people with that feeling once they've gone?

(David Donnelly/CBC)

One final pep talk

"Go wild!" says Batavia. "For us, this is such a blank canvas. It's a playground. This is a building that's going to go — it's going to be gone! Weeks after the event is over, they're going to start breaking ground."

Because you don't have to worry about messing the place up, the project gives you "so much creative license and freedom." So think big — and think about that theme of inclusivity.

"I think the big idea here, just sort of based on what's happening in the world right now, is that we really have an opportunity to make Toronto a global model for inclusivity and start to imagine what that looks like."

Visit the Toronto For Everyone website for more details on the event and how to apply to participate. Deadline for public experience and artistic residency applications is Dec. 2 at 11:59 p.m.

Toronto for Everyone. Featuring: You? Feb. 23-26, 2017. Honest Ed's, Toronto.