History of the Botanicus Art Ensemble

(formerly the MacGregor Park Art Club)

When Toronto artist and founder Kristen Fahrig started working as Resident Artist at MacGregor Playground in 2003, she began cultivating the seeds of Botanicus Art Ensemble.

Following a successful career in theatre costume production & design, Kristen had developed a ‘Neighbourhood Legacy Project’, reclaiming deserted and rundown public parks through art. The result was permanent installations, collective artworks of over 700 people in three urban parks. They became icons in the community, galvanizing public involvement in the care of local parks.

In 2003 MacGregor Playground (located on Lansdowne Ave. north of College St.) had a reputation as a deserted ‘crack park’. Neighbours of the park had heard about Artist Kristen Fahrig’s art projects in other local parks, and asked her to consider bringing positive, creative art programming to MacGregor Playground.

Within a protective circle of grandmothers, large paper mache puppets were made for a ‘take back the streets’ parade and celebratory cooking fire, which drew people together to begin a revisioning of their public space.

With support from the Arts Councils, Toronto Parks Forestry & Recreation, the City Councillor’s office and multiple community partners inch by inch over the past 13 years a significant metamorphosis has happened in this once-orphaned place. The idea was to reestablish the park as a safe space for all by animating it through art, expanding its cultural definition in the area, creating a sense commonality with themes like local history, migration, the natural cycle of the Seasons, Equinox, Solstice and Canada Day celebrations

This allowed the community to gather and feel rooted in their collective experiences. Bringing the finest artists of varied disciplines to work with a diverse community for art engagement and education opportunities, creating a sense of folklore through the process.

By the summer of 2013 the park had become a thriving community hub; through community consultations it was determined that the needs of the neighbourhood had changed from safety to a desire to experience nature in the urban environment. Ward 18 has a deficit of parks, and with the condo developments along rail lands MacGregor Playground has become an essential green space for people without backyards or cottages. With funding from the Weston Foundation, beautiful Teaching Gardens (Edible & Native Species) were built in the park – resources for community members and local Recreation, school and daycare programs.

The Botanicus Art Ensemble was incorporated as a not-for-profit community arts organization in March of 2015. Our current focus is on developing the supports for year-round creative programming through improvements to the field house at MacGregor Playground, and by expanding our reach beyond the borders of the park.

Community Performances, Celebrations, Story & Art: Winter Solstice “Burn the Snowman!!”, Water Festivals, Canada Day, Hallowe’en, Theatre productions based on local history & maps, skateboard art & skate park design, coffee house performances, copper art, drawing/painting & sculpture, kite design, musical instruments from found materials, finger and sidewalk labyrinths, woven willow sculpture workshops, garden/park sculpture installations. Other Integrated Art performances include participation in ‘Lake Spirit’, a sculpture and water pouring ritual created by Kristen Fahrig for the Luminato Festival at Harbourfront Centre.

Park Improvement Projects: park bench refurbishing, building & painting picnic tables, wading pool design & paint “Tree of Life Labyrinth”, garden trellis, fieldhouse improvements, Teaching Gardens expansions, creating an Archway for the park entrance with blacksmithing demonstrations in the park

In 2014 the MacGregor Park Art Club was honoured with a BIG on Bloor Neighbourhood Award for ‘bringing local residents and artists together in our natural world resulting in brilliant projects and fantastic learning opportunities’ presented by MP Andrew Cash.

Participating Artists: Kristen Fahrig (Artistic Director) Jane Wells, Kiersten Tough, Bob Collins (story & theatre), Tatiana Hutinec, Lissa Brunet, Gordie Wornoff, Lorraine Maltese, Heidrun Gabel-Koepff, Lesley Norgate, Jan MacKie, Jennifer Reis, Shannon Trapman, Ruth Maltese (visual art & design), Lori Lemare (aerialist), Maninho Costa, Maylee Todd, Tiiu Milistver, Stephanie Martin, Luciano Porto, Pamela Reynolds, Kate Mossman, Jamie Andrews, Gilly Gervais, Bad Vibe Productions, DJ Arif, Molumbo Groove, Jessica Moore, Clara & Angela Hilts, Ivy Mairi, Tibetan classical musicians, Brazilian Sambistas, Abigail Lapell, Kelly LeFaive, Lisa Bozikovic, Aline Morales (music); Jaclyn Buckley, Sarah Mills (Choreography), Caitlin Morris Cornfield, Zita Nyarady, Robert Faulkner (stiltwalkers), Sandra Dunn, Dave Brandow, Lisa Langdon plus 8 volunteer blacksmiths (Blacksmiths) Maria Solakofsky, Morgan Zigler, Kris Kozolanka, Ava Lightbody (Garden design/build); Brendan Makes (photography); Katie Nicholson, Elizabeth Littlejohn (video documentation); Mayssan Shujauddin, Aliya Lipitkas (Social media & outreach).

Collaborating Groups: Friends of Dufferin Grove Park; City of Toronto Parks, Forestry, Recreation & Horticulture; Cooking Fire Theatre Festival (2004 & 2005); Harbourfront Centre (2008); West Toronto Collegiate Art Dep’t, Industrial Design Dep’t & Adult ESL Class; CELOS (Centre for Local Research into Public Space); Batucada Carioca; Lula Lounge; St. Anne’s Church; Art Gallery of Ontario; Dundas West BIA; Bishop Marrocco Thomas Merton CSS; Brazilian Bakery; York University; Ecole Secondaire Toronto Ouest; Givins/Shaw Public School; Jane’s Walk; Early Years Centres; Spiral Garden Artists; William F. White International Inc.; High Park Children’s Garden; OABA (Ontario Artist Blacksmith Association)

 

Pictured above: In 2015 Kristen was honoured with an Exemplary Citizen Award by City Councillor Ana Bailao in recognition of her work in the creation of the MacGregor Playground Teaching Gardens.