ArtworxTO is Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021-2022, a collaborative initiative to bring together and showcase the city’s exceptional public art collection and celebrate the artists behind it. While the city has various public art organizations — from events such as Nuit Blanche and Open Doors to street art and thousands of free events — there’s never been one single voice or place to capture everything that is happening in Toronto’s thriving art world.
The City of Toronto reached out to us in March 2020 with an open-ended brief to promote the Year of Public Art. In many ways, this unique project was like starting with a blank canvas. The client had a big idea — they knew they wanted a website that integrated all of the art events coming in from multiple sources, a platform to feature artists, and a map of events — but beyond that, the path to realize it had yet to be drawn.
With so many unknowns upfront, our solution was to work iteratively with them. The client became part of the team, and we worked together in two week sprints, moving forward with the information we had and conducting discovery to get us to the next step. We had daily morning scrums, and weekly status meetings to keep the process on track, and redefined the scope every two weeks.
Working iteratively like this — not knowing what the outcome will be, (but knowing there will be a good one!) — can be a challenging concept, but this collaborative method really gave everybody, from the city to stakeholders, to the agency, an opportunity to feel heard on their end, align ideas and priorities, and realize the clients’ true goals.
This super-proactive process also proved to be incredibly agile, especially when it became clear that the pandemic was going to indefinitely postpone the launch, and 2020 wouldn’t be the year of public anything. It gave the team the opportunity to take a step back and build something bigger. Inevitably, the launch would be pushed back four times because of the pandemic, and each time we took it as an opportunity to enhance and grow the experience.
Another unique aspect to this project was that even though the City of Toronto was the end client, they also rely on funding and grants for the public projects. In this case, we collaborated with two third-party financial clients — Code for Canada & Toronto Arts Foundation — with representatives from each becoming part of the bigger team.
We also worked with artists across the city. As much as this was a resource for the residents of Toronto, we wanted it to be a resource for them as well. So we collaborated with different artists and groups and asked them what they needed from a site like this, and were able to integrate that experience in for them.
Part of our mandate was that the site had to be accessible to all city residents. That meant design and usability testing were key, with several factors and the needs of all people needing to be considered. The UX was designed in house, and we partnered with Code for Canada to collaborate with users. Everything we put out was user tested, resulting in a site that is as accessible as possible.
Another proud point of mention was that the heart of the team, both client and agency side, was all-female led — a rarity in tech.
Almost two years later with pandemic restrictions lifting, we were able to launch in September 2021 with a high-fidelity and fully-accessible site that went way beyond the initial scope to a more realized version. One that aggregates all the city’s art data, provides a single destination for people to learn about upcoming exhibits and events, showcases the multitude of local talent, and encourages Torontonians to get out there and enjoy the free art this place we all call home has to offer.