Common Ground: ART x BISSELL 2016

2016, Art, Faculty of Information, Temporary Exhibit
contemporary art, diaspora, displacement, event photos, gender, homelessness, mural, painting, photography, Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, Toronto, University of Toronto
About This Project

Date: April 7, 2016 – April 2017

Partner: Faculty of Information

Venue: Claude T. Bissell Building – map

Project Members: Madeleine Adamson, Annissa Malvoisin and Camille-Mary Sharp


Common Ground: ART x BISSELL 2016 is a contemporary art exhibition featuring the work of twelve emerging artists, several of whom are affiliated with community-engaged organizations SKETCH and The Remix Project. The photographs and paintings in the exhibition were chosen with the intention of encouraging reflection on—and discussion about—the theme of displacement. The second exhibition of its kind, Common Ground, aims to make student-curated art at the iSchool an annual tradition.


Common Ground is primarily geared toward iSchool students and faculty but, since the Bissell Building is often open to the public, we anticipate members of the broader Toronto community visiting the iSchool to see the exhibition. An Open Exhibition in the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, Common Ground will also attract festival-goers throughout the month of May.


The exhibition is located in the Claude T. Bissell Building (140 St. George Street), part of the University of Toronto’s St. George campus. The artwork is hung on the second-, third- and seventh-floor lobbies of the building. In addition, a mural has been painted in a corridor on the second floor, and photography is on display in Room 728. Last year, rods for hanging artwork were installed on the second and seventh floors of the Bissell Building. These rods, along with several vents on the third floor, were what we used for hanging the artwork. Room 728 was an ideal choice for showcasing photography, not only because of its white walls and clean aesthetic, but also because it would allow all photographs to be featured in the same space, at eye level, and in a high-traffic area.


The project was funded by the iSchool Budget, approved by former dean Seamus Ross, as well as the MSL4000Y class budget. We also raised money during a bake sale. In addition, Toronto art-supply store ARTiculations made a partial donation of painting supplies for our mural. Finally, the admission fee for registering for CONTACT was waived.


Planning for Common Ground began in September 2016. The exhibition took seven months to research, plan and install. We submitted our Call for Submissions to artists in October and selected artworks at the end of December. In early January we met with the artists and began designing our promotional materials, writing our text panels, and planning for the installation and opening reception. Installation took place on April 4 and our opening reception was held on April 7. The exhibition will end in April 2017 and artworks will be returned to the artists.


Common Ground features 20 photographs by four different artists, all of which are hanging in Room 728. The exhibition also includes 21 paintings of varying sizes and media. We decided to keep each artist’s works together, though we did have to break up one artist’s series due to space constraints.


Our interpretive text includes a large introductory panel, outlining the theme of the exhibition and providing visitors with a sense of what to expect in the exhibition. We printed the same panel twice and put a copy in second- and seventh-floor lobbies. We also created 12 panels, one for each artist, that we placed adjacent to each artist’s series of works. Only in one instance did we separate one artist’s works onto two different floors due to space constraints; in this case, we printed two copies of his panel. We also created a panel for the mural. The content of the labels included a combination of information about the artists themselves, as well as an explanation of how their work relates to the theme of displacement.


Our team undertook a great deal of marketing for our exhibition. We created posters that we hung throughout the iSchool and in other places on campus, and we prepared an e-vite to be sent to U of T faculty and students. Kathleen O’Brien, the iSchool’s Communications and Development Officer, promoted Common Ground in iSchool e-blasts, circulated our media advisory to the local press, and wrote an article about our exhibition which appeared in the University of Toronto bulletin released on April 8, 2016.


Programming at the opening reception on April 7 included a live painting session throughout the evening by Nadia Gurkova, one of the artists featured in the exhibition. Over the course of the evening, DJ Mars Gray performed, and there was a musical performance by Toronto singer Gifted. The exhibition also features a catalogue, brochures, as well as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages.


Approximately 100 and 150 people attended our opening reception. We received very positive visitor response verbally, as well as on all our social media channels. Common Ground had few failures, save for our spoken word performer not showing up. Because visitor attendance was unexpectedly high at the opening, we had to adjust our itinerary for the evening. Rather than taking guests on a curatorial tour, we asked artists to stand in front of their work for 30 minutes so that guests could speak to each artist informally.


We would like to thank all of our sponsors, but particularly the iSchool for their generous budget that allowed us to realize this project. Thanks to SKETCH and The Remix Project, the two organizations that helped introduce us to many of the artists featured in the exhibition, and to iSchool staff who provided their time and expertise during the planning, artwork selection, writing and installation processes.