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Home School of Communications, Media, Arts and Design Blog 2021 November 01 Fine Arts Students Create Art Installation for Scarborough Hero Awards

Fine Arts Students Create Art Installation for Scarborough Hero Awards


When there is a connection between the classroom and the community, the results are always something spectacular, and students in the Fine Arts Studio program got to experience this first-hand within their Storyworks course by creating an art installation for the inaugural Scarborough Hero Awards. This event awarded everyday heroes who have gone above and beyond to serve and support the Scarborough community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The leaders of Centennial College, Scarborough Health Network, the Toronto Zoo, and the University of Toronto Scarborough launched the Scarborough Hero Awards in February and received over 250 nominations. Winners were selected by a jury of local City Councillors and community organizers, and to celebrate them, Fine Arts Studio students created a mural art installation that was unveiled at the event titled Neighbourhood Garden.

Lisa Binnie, Program Coordinator and Professor of the Fine Arts Studio program, explains that Jessica Vella, lead of Centennial’s Strategic Initiatives and External Relations (SIER) department, shared an idea to the Story Arts Centre community about creating artwork to help celebrate the Scarborough Hero Awards that were being organized, and it happened to be a great fit for Lisa’s students for their Storyworks course. Lisa says she immediately thought it would be great if students could put out a call for artwork and design a mural to be printed on panels, and a group of students were on board.   

The Preparation

Since this was a large-scale project, nine students were involved. They began by putting out a call for submissions across the Story Arts Centre for artwork and photographs. After they received several submissions, Lisa says they spent around three weeks pulling all of the images into a cohesive set of artwork that would display across four panels. They also created a didactic panel, which is the text that helps explain the art, and ran ideas past the SIER team throughout the entirety of the project.   

“[Students] wanted to make sure that the content matched with what the Scarborough Hero Awards was trying to do, and they asked really good questions… such as what languages are spoken in Scarborough and if they needed to translate the didactic, and just all sorts of questions that nobody else thought of,” Lisa shares.

Two students were the project coordinators and were responsible for the communication and organization of the project, while a handful of the team completed the digital work, such as creating the montage of all the submissions they received along with a few graphic elements to pull it all together.

Lisa explains, “Students wanted to make something that supported the celebration of the people who went above and beyond in Scarborough to help throughout the beginning stages of the pandemic, so when the students were thinking about that, they wanted to acknowledge the diversity there, the diversity of the people, and the diversity of what it looks like there visually.”

She continues, “When you look at it, there are bursts of energy, and there's fun with the beautiful beams of yellow light coming out of it in every panel, which is another uniting element. It has this really bright, positive feel, and yet the tones for the background are somewhat muted, so there’s this really nice balance.” 


Zia Foley, one of the project coordinators who was responsible for the communications side of the project and who designed the flower motifs that were used throughout the panel, explains, “The project was all about community - it was done to honour people who brought the Scarborough community together during the pandemic. Working on it brought our team together as a community - everyone put in a lot of hours and hard work and supported each other so it was able to be completed in the allotted time.”

She continues, “The project was also all about resilience - we chose the nature theme in order to highlight how urban communities are similar to ecosystems in that every member plays an important role, and that is what enables us to keep healthy and thrive. The sun motif was used to remind people that there is always hope and that we can get through this together.”

“The project really reminded me of the communities that I am part of - the community of students at Centennial, the community of the Story Art Centre and the Fine Arts Studio Program, and the community of artists in the GTA. Sending a message of hope and resilience also gave me hope and helped me through the hard times of the pandemic,” Zia shares.


Chris Wang, who was also the project coordinator, shares similar thoughts about the community aspect of the art piece. “The overall theme of community resilience really resonated with me because of the ongoing pandemic. It was and still is a traumatic and difficult time for so many people, so we really appreciated that the Scarborough Hero Awards celebrated the people who were helping the community.  When tragedy is happening, I think it is important to find joy and love wherever you can to encourage people to keep going and support one another.” 

How the Fine Arts Studio Program Prepared Students

Since this project was part of the Storyworks course, which is heavily based on experiential, hands-on learning, this group of students put the skills they learned from their program into action. Zia shares, “The arts classes helped improve my technical skills which I used to design the flower motif. The Storyworks class helped me to develop my communication and project management skills and provided our team with discussion time which we used to generate ideas and keep each other on track with our tasks. Lisa Binnie was a great mentor and provided us support and advice along the way.”

Chris shares a similar experience, as she adds, “The content we learned in the program was valuable, but what I personally valued more was the uplifting and friendly environment created by both professors and students. This led to open communication between artist peers, so we felt comfortable freely sharing information with each other even if it was not traditionally part of the FAS curriculum.  It was our high respect for each other, our artwork, and our skills that allowed the student team to work together so well on this project.”


The Final Product

The final product includes four panels that are about four feet high and five feet wide, three of which include the art that the students worked on. This was a group effort from the artwork and photography submissions, down to the creation of the installation. This included: Sidia Atabales-Schnitzler, Atiyah Azmi, Zia Foley, Leanne Gibson, Anne Kim, Yujun Oh, Anna Rasti, Tuncel Mustafa, Aleksandra Rodneva, Weijia Su, and Chris Wang. 

Chris shares, “The scope of the Scarborough Hero Awards project was fairly large in comparison to other client work we had experience with, so our professor and program coordinator Lisa Binnie was extremely supportive during the process by providing guidance when we sought additional opinions. We also received some valuable feedback from a past FAS professor David McClyment, and we asked Anna Rasti from Graphic Design to help with the information panel’s layout because she would have more experience in this area.”

The installation is now open to the public and will be presented at various Scarborough locations, as well as on-campus at the Story Arts Centre – stay tuned for more details.


Written by: Alexandra Few


Images by:  Photographer Desran McKie from Dez.Photography.