New initiative aims to fight sexual harassment at Toronto bars — through drink coasters

'On The Table' is a series of coasters designed to spark conversation about gender-based violence and sexual harassment in bars, clubs, and other venues.

'On The Table' is a series of locally-designed coasters meant to spark dialogue at Toronto venues

These eye-catching coasters aim to spark dialogue about sexual harassment and consent, featuring designs from various local artists including Hazel Meyer (left) and Lido Pimienta (right). (Aisle 4)

As co-owner of two Toronto bars, Phil Cacace has heard plenty of stories about harassment from female staff and clientele.

"They get followed all the way home from work sometimes," says the co-owner of Wenona Craft Beer Lodge and Tall Boys, both found on the stretch of Bloor Street West between Dufferin and Christie Streets.

"Or taxi drivers want to know if this is where they live and this is where they work. Or they come back from the bathroom, take a sip of their drink, and don't remember the rest of their night."

That's why when Aisle 4, a Toronto-based curatorial project promoting socially engaged artwork, contacted Cacace about a new sexual harassment awareness project involving beer coasters designed by local artists, he jumped at the chance to participate.

"This is still the harsh reality of the bar scene, and all too often it's brushed aside or tolerated," he says.

The project — cheekily called 'On The Table' — is a series of coasters designed to spark conversation about gender-based violence and sexual harassment in bars, clubs, and other venues.

Left to right: Emily Fitzpatrick, Patricia Ritacca, Renée van der Avoird, and Shannon Linde are all members of Aisle 4, a Toronto-based curatorial project that initiates and promotes socially engaged artwork. (Aisle 4)

Coaster series features 4 local artists

Featuring designs from Toronto artists Jesse Harris, Aisha Sasha John, Hazel Meyer and Lido Pimienta, the coasters will be distributed to at least 15 bars during the Toronto Design Offsite Festival that's happening from Jan. 16 to 22.

The four women curators behind Aisle 4 — Emily Fitzpatrick, Shannon Linde, Patricia Ritacca, and Renée van der Avoird — hope the project creates a larger dialogue about harassment beyond just chit-chat over pints.

"It's not a government PSA. It's a more subtle intervention in people's lives," says Linde.

"Listen to your gut" reads a coaster design from local artist Aisha Sasha John. (Aisle 4)

Fitzpatrick says 10,000 coasters will be printed, featuring phrases like "Consent matters" on one design by Pimienta.

Contributing to the project was a no-brainer for the Toronto-based, Colombian-born interdisciplinary artist.

"It matters because I'm a woman, and I don't often feel safe, and I've been a victim of sexual harassment myself, so I know what it's like to feel like you're just holding this secret and feeling like if you speak out, you'll be blamed for it," she says.

Goal is to create a 'larger dialogue'

So will it have an impact? Toronto-based cultural commentator Candace Shaw, who isn't connected to the project, says anything that starts a conversation about harassment is helpful, but this type of project might not make a big concrete difference.

"There are certainly a lot of people out there who are committing sexual assault that a coaster is not going to affect," she says.

Even so, the women behind Aisle 4 hope the project at least gets people talking.

The eye-catching coaster project is meant to spark dialogue about gender-based violence and sexual harassment, with designs like this from Toronto artist Jesse Harris and others. (Aisle 4)

"The main goal would be to just create a larger dialogue about these issues," says Fitzpatrick, who says the project is funded by the Toronto Arts Council and has been in the works for about a year.

So far, an assortment of bars and venues across the city have signed on, including Civil Liberties, Cold Tea, Get Well, the Gladstone Hotel, Track & Field, Unlovable, and Wenona Craft Beer Lodge.