Window mural initiative in downtown Peterborough is a ‘street-level demonstration of love’

'Love for the Boro' launched by Toronto artists who founded 'Neighbourhood Love' initiative in response to classism and racism in Etobicoke

Former Toronto artist Julii McMillan (middle), who is now living in Peterborough, is one of the founders of the "Neighbourhood Love" public art campaign, launched this fall in Etobicoke when a family received hate mail after having a mural commissioned on their garage door. McMillan has joined with local artists Bethany LeBlonc (left), Dawn Pond, Brooklin Stormie, and Olivia Chessman and Toronto artists Julia Prajza and Bareket Kezwer (right) to paint six window murals in downtown Peterborough as part of the "Love for the Boro" initiative, including this mural at the old Patch Store at Hunter and George. (Photo courtesy of Love for the Boro)
Former Toronto artist Julii McMillan (middle), who is now living in Peterborough, is one of the founders of the "Neighbourhood Love" public art campaign, launched this fall in Etobicoke when a family received hate mail after having a mural commissioned on their garage door. McMillan has joined with local artists Bethany LeBlonc (left), Dawn Pond, Brooklin Stormie, and Olivia Chessman and Toronto artists Julia Prajza and Bareket Kezwer (right) to paint six window murals in downtown Peterborough as part of the "Love for the Boro" initiative, including this mural at the old Patch Store at Hunter and George. (Photo courtesy of Love for the Boro)

A viral public art campaign called “Neighbourhood Love” that began in Toronto this fall has now made its way to Peterborough.

“Love for the Boro” debuted on Friday night (December 4) during the monthly First Friday Peterborough arts crawl through a so-called “mural scavenger hunt”.

Local artists Dawn Pond, Bethany LeBlonc, Brooklin Stormie, and Olivia Chessman joined Toronto artists Julia Prajza, Julii McMillan, and Bareket Kezwer to paint six murals in storefront windows in downtown Peterborough.

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“Love for the Boro is a community-led and supported initiative,” reads a media release from the Peterborough Downtown Business Improvement Area (DBIA), one of the initiative’s sponsors.

“Together we can make love visible by creating safe spaces and opportunities to express what we love as individuals and as a community. We have the power to support, uplift, inspire and connect with each other, even when we must stay apart.”

Along with Toronto artist Natalie Very B., Toronto artists McMillan (who now lives in Peterborough) and Prajza are the founders of Neighbourhood Love, which began in September after an Etobicoke woman received anonymous hate mail in response to a mural on her garage door.

After Etobicoke resident Sapna Shah commissioned a mural to be painted on her garage door in September, she received anonymous hate mail. In response, a group of Toronto artists launched the "Neighbourhood Love" initiative where  20 professional artists painted 25 colourful murals on house and garage doors, porches, and mailboxes in Shah's South Etobicoke neighbourhood over the Thanksgiving weekend. (Photos: Joanna Lavoie/Torstar)
After Etobicoke resident Sapna Shah commissioned a mural to be painted on her garage door in September, she received anonymous hate mail. In response, a group of Toronto artists launched the “Neighbourhood Love” initiative where 20 professional artists painted 25 colourful murals on house and garage doors, porches, and mailboxes in Shah’s South Etobicoke neighbourhood over the Thanksgiving weekend. (Photos: Joanna Lavoie/Torstar)

Soon after commissioning Natalie Very B. to paint the mural on her garage door, Sapna Shah found two anonymous letters in her mailbox, one of which claimed she had “devalued all of the homes in this area with that hideous graffiti” and that the mural “has made the entire neighbourhood look like a low income ghetto.”

After Shah shared the vitriolic letter with its classist and racist undertones on Facebook and the Toronto Star published a story about it, there was an outpouring of support for the Shah family.

That included the artists behind Neighbourhood Love, who organized “a street-level demonstration of love”. They raised more than $3,000 through a crowdfunding campaign to cover the cost of supplies to have 20 professional artists paint 25 colourful murals — depicting whimsical flora and fauna, landscapes, and geometrics — on house and garage doors, porches, and mailboxes in Shah’s South Etobicoke neighbourhood over the Thanksgiving weekend.

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By creating public art in the private sector, Neighbourhood Love was able to circumvent much slower bureaucratic procedures, such as the jury process, common for artworks in the public domain.

Now, with the newly formed sister initiative Love for the Boro, the Toronto artists along with local artists are planning to paint a total of 10 murals. Along with the Peterborough DBIA, the initiative is being sponsored by Dulux Peterborough, Summers and Co., AsONE Foundation, and private property owners.

“By creating a variety of opportunities for community participation and support we will work together to uplift, unite and inspire positive action,” the artists write on their Love for the Boro GoFundMe campaign. “We are also working to increase local public arts experience, increase local artist visibility and generate future opportunities for artists in the area”

"Love for the Boro" logo. (Photo courtesy of Love for the Boro)
“Love for the Boro” logo. (Photo courtesy of Love for the Boro)

“The Love for the Boro initiative will continue into the month of December with a variety of creative community engaged activities, both online and in the real world,” reads the Peterborough DBIA media release.

To learn more about the initiative and upcoming programming, follow Love for the Boro on Instagram @loveforboro.

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