A ribbon of protection has been wrapped around Women’s Residence near Dundas Street West and Bathurst Street to help the women who call the shelter home feel a little safer.
The ribbon came in the form of a mural painted by a team of local graffiti artists and the residents of the shelter themselves. Bright, cheery and colourful, it is adorned with pictures of butterflies and inspiring words such as “respect,” “peace,” “dignity” and “protect.”
Paula “Bomba” Gonzalez, a graffiti artist who led the project with help from a grant from StreetARToronto (StART) and additional support from the nearby Scadding Court Community Centre, said the mural took four weeks to complete, with women from Women’s Residence helping to create the design and adding their own painting skills to the initiative.
“The ribbon is there to show protection and positivity, and the front of the building has a compass to show we’re all from somewhere,” she said. “We want to pass along a positive message to the sisters who pass through (the residence) to get a little rest, to get a little food, to get a little help.”
While the community was also consulted on the design, those living in Women’s Residence had the most say. In addition to beautifying what Gonzalez said was “a very institutional-looking building,” the mural will also hopefully deter vandals from tagging its walls – an ongoing problem in the past.
Tina Sparkman, who lived in Women’s Residence until recently, said the women were eager to make their voices heard when the idea of creating a mural on their building arose.
“We were all invited to come up with ideas, colours and items we wanted in the mural,” she said.
Sparkman added the project – and the finished product – played a big role in her moving on from Women’s Residence.
“It really gave me hope at a time when I’d started to lose hope I would get out of here and get a place of my own,” she said. “It just made me a lot more excited and hopeful each day.”
Mradula Gohil, who calls Women’s Residence home, said the women were all given free rein to share their ideas, adding that actually getting a chance to contribute to the painting of the mural made it all the more special.
“There were so many ideas, but instead of being all mixed up, Paula put them all together so it looks great,” she said. “The nicest part was painting the final finishing touches because we got to put ourselves into it.”
Gonzalez said working with the women in the residence added poignancy to her experience. A longtime veteran of Toronto’s street art scene, she said the mural is a shining example of the ways in which graffiti can transform a city for the better.
“This shows the potential it has. It’s not just a street art thing; we can make it a fine art process,” she said. “And I got to meet with a crew of amazing women who greeted the idea with happiness and smiles and said ‘yes, we want to do this.’”
Councillor Joe Cressy and MPP Han Dong attended a ceremony to unveil the mural Friday, Sept. 11 and lauded the artists for their work.
“This is truly the best of a city,” Cressy said.