Mystery artist gives Parkdale payphones a guerrilla makeover
Brightly coloured decoupage art supplies 1-800 numbers for credit counselling, helplines and other services.
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Praise is ringing out in Parkdale for a mystery makeover artist who cloaked pay phones with quirky designs and quick access to emergency lines.
A benevolent bandit tricked out phones with colourful decoupage (paper cutouts) including 1-800 numbers for social services like Kids Help Phone and Legal Aid Ontario.
Calls to local artists and service providers turned up no leads, just love for the idea.
“It’s wonderful, and I say whoever’s doing it, keep doing it,” said local MPP Cheri DiNovo.
The NDP politician praised the designs for their beauty and their brains, saying the social justice aspect makes the folk art even better.
“These can be life savers, because it’s difficult to sometimes find or access those numbers,” she said.
The Assaulted Women’s Helpline, whose number is included on the list, gets 50,000 calls from across the province in an average year, and that’s without widespread advertising.
“Often advertising mediums are simply out of reach for agencies like ours, and we simply don’t have the budget,” said spokesperson Jennifer Rollo.
“We think this is a wonderful new initiative,” she added. “Whether it’s a group or an individual creating this project, this certainly speaks to the need for these services.”
Social media posts popped up last week celebrating the unique street art. The Star spotted redesigns outside the Parkdale library on Queen St., near the No Frills at King St. and Jameson Ave., and at Queen St. and Roncesvalles Ave.
The inclusion of Ontario’s Mental Health Helpline on the booths was news to executive director Brad Davey, but the provincially funded agency is “delighted” to have the attention.
“We spend a considerable amount of our time and money thinking of how to get the word out to people,” he said.
“One in five people are going to be experiencing a mental health issue in their lifetime, and we’re often the front door for them to get some help.”
Peggy-Gail DeHal-Gunraj, a community worker at Parkdale Community Legal Services, said she’s used to seeing nearby phone booths decorated with pigeon poop.
“Ever since people started getting cellphones, the pay phones have kind of looked neglected, so this has been something that people really like,” she said of the installation.
A survey done for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission last February found only a third of Canadians had used pay phones in the past year, according to the Canadian Press. But they can be a lifeline for vulnerable Canadians, including the homeless and victims of abuse that don’t have access to other phones, CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said at the time.
DeHal-Gunraj has referred people to the very phone lines included on the phones. For many, picking up the receiver at a Bell booth can sometimes be the only way to call for help, she added.
Though Bell Canada, which owns and maintains the phones, acts quickly to repair broken phones and remove vandalism, spokesperson Jason Laszlo said these won’t be touched any time soon.
“We are aware and can see the positive intentions of whoever added the phone numbers,” he said. “Over time they will get a cleanup and brand refresh, like all our pay phones, but these locations are not in our immediate plans.”
No one’s calling the phone company about the makeover, Laszlo added, saying no complaints have been made.
“I think it’s a great guerrilla installation,” said Anna Bartula, executive director of the Parkdale Village BIA.
Though officially the BIA doesn’t endorse property damage, Bartula said the pieces represent the “thriving community.”
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