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UofT duo bring New York City ideas about accessibility, relevance to Toronto art spaces

What can Toronto's art galleries and museums learn from New York City?

University of Toronto students Katerina Mizrokhi (left) and Melissa Vincent have spent time studying how art and culture institutions function in New York. Now, they’re taking the lessons they learned home to Toronto.

Eduardo Lima/Metro

University of Toronto students Katerina Mizrokhi (left) and Melissa Vincent have spent time studying how art and culture institutions function in New York. Now, they’re taking the lessons they learned home to Toronto.

When Katerina Mizrokhi and Melissa Vincent toured New York’s famed museums last summer, decadent oil paintings and intricate marble sculptures were hardly on their minds.

Instead, amidst some of the world’s most iconic pieces of art, the University of Toronto students were more focused on signage, security and how many people were milling about exhibits.

Their observations formed the basis of a new report on New York cultural institutions and the roles they play in their neighbourhoods.

The experience also taught the duo that Toronto’s art spaces could be doing more to engage the public.

Too often, Mizrokhi said, art galleries and museums in the city are treated like “skeletons for the next big thing to park itself down in,” rather than opportunities to intertwine art with Toronto’s own “cultural, historic and social cityscape.”

Vincent pointed to the Royal Ontario Museum as a space she believes could better reflect the community.

She said the ROM could learn a few things from the Brooklyn Museum, which has hosted queer immigration panels, held social justice events about affordable housing or discrimination, booked a DJ to spin Latin music and even has an app allowing visitors to submit questions about exhibits and get prompt responses from staff.

Ultimately, the pair said that the first step to making art and culture more accessible in Toronto is to make it more affordable.

Children and families who can afford frequent visits to sites like the Art Gallery of Ontario or the ROM have a “completely different” experience of arts and culture than those who can go “once a year or hardly at all,” Mizrokhi said.

Mizrokhi and Vincent’s recommendations for making art and culture more accessible in Toronto:

1. Make arts spaces more physically accessible by complying with government disabilities acts

2. Enforce affirmative action policies

3. Look for opportunities to collaborate with the community

4. Create public forums where visitors can voice concerns or ideas

5. Appoint members to a city-based arts advisory committee that’s representative of the neighbourhood

6. Once the committee is created, allow for criticism of institutions and programming

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