Softer City

Summer 2024 | May 24 – October 6, 2024

In an increasingly hard city, how do we soften the barriers that separate us? The Bentway’s summer public art exhibition invites you to a series of soft encounters, where “softness” is embraced as a collective strategy for building a socially connected city.

“The pandemic has magnified the pre-existing crisis of social isolation, and Toronto is one of the loneliest places in the country.” – 2023 Toronto Foundation Vital Signs Report 

Modern cities are often thought of as hard, fast-paced, and alienating places. Not just because of the concrete and steel that built them, but with social isolation on the rise, cities are becoming increasingly hard places to live.  

Public spaces have long modelled ways to soften our cities and make them more approachable, more inviting, and more conducive to forming social connections. Now more than ever, we need to draw learnings from our public spaces and discover new means of softening the barriers that separate us, prioritize community care, and provide the conditions for people to gather, meet, and grow.

How can we reimagine city-building based on new, softer strategies? How can public art and shared spaces contribute to the well-being of neighbourhoods? 

The Bentway’s summer exhibition of free public art, Softer City, explores softness as a means of humanizing our cities, connecting communities, and creating space for collective repair. Bringing together artists, architects, and designers from Toronto, across Canada, and beyond, the exhibition proposes a series of soft encounters with our city, our infrastructure, and one another.

Full Program

  • Perspective Alignment

    Chloë Bass’ sculptural benches, formed from solid Ontario rock and engraved with poetic reflections, welcome visitors to sit alongside a friend (or stranger) and consider the difficult but necessary work of softening our perspectives towards one another through empathy and care.

  • Wind Ensemble

    Brightly coloured windsocks dance overhead while windchimes echo throughout, picking up the movement of the wind and the energy of the city. Toronto-based artist Heather Nicol invites you to add your voice to this chorus, to pause and connect to your surroundings and one another.

  • Soft Fits

    Few public spaces are designed with teenagers in mind. For Soft Fits, Brooklyn’s WIP Collaborative worked with local youth to create a playful lounge-scape under the trees at the edge of The Bentway Studio Terrace facing Canoe Landing Park.

  • Holding Space

    Nnenna Okore uses scaffolding, pipe, and Ankara – a versatile and iconic African fabric that embodies a deep sense of identity and community – to create a new space for human connection. Vibrant fabric hues weave around the Gardiner’s hard edges, softening the concrete infrastructure.

  • Tracings

    How can we show care for our infrastructure and, by extension, for each other? Nico Williams applied “patches” (made with woven fabric and jingle cones) to the Gardiner’s concrete columns, incorporating traditional Indigenous regalia designs. These soft interventions add joy, beauty, and a caring touch to the Expressway.

  • Walking:Holding
    May 25, 2024 to May 26, 2024

    Walking:Holding is a unique, experiential performance that invites audience members (one at a time) on a guided walk through the neighbourhood, where they encounter and hold hands with a series of people along the way. Rosana Cade’s project embraces social connections between strangers, illuminating how identity, intimacy, hypervisibility, and vulnerability intersect in public space.

  • Softer City Curators’ Tour

    Be the first to explore our Softer City outdoor exhibition by joining a curators’ tour on opening weekend. Learn about the inspiration behind the exhibition theme and come see how Softer City invites artists, architects, and designers to explore new approaches to social connection and soft encounters in our city.

  • Weekly Drawing Socials
    Every Wednesday from June 5 to September 25, 2024.

    Looking for a fun night out with a creative twist? Join us at the Bentway Studio (facing Canoe Landing Park) on Wednesday evenings for weekly Drawing Socials. No previous drawing experience? No problem! Our artist facilitators will help you try something new, and meet your neighbours, while learning drawing techniques.

  • Roller Skate Parties
    June 14, July 12, August 16, September 27, 2024.

    Meet us under the Gardiner for our monthly Roller Skate Parties! Whether you’re skating for the first time or have superfly moves to show off, come cruise our figure-eight trail. Expect live DJs and your favourite food trucks. Our friends at SUSO Skate will have gear rentals available too. These will be summer nights to…

  • Beading Workshop at The Bentway
    June 22, 2024. Times: 12pm-2pm and 3pm-5pm

    Join a community beading circle inspired by Nico Williams’s project Tracings, a series of large-scale Indigenous regalia designs installed under the Gardiner. Learn about basic beading techniques and the role that beading plays in healing practices in many communities.

  • Yoga with Adriene, presented by The Bentway
    July 6, 2024. 10:00am (Timed Entry)

    The Bentway welcomes wellness icon Adriene Mishler of Yoga with Adriene for her first-ever live event in Canada! The YouTube superstar has inspired millions of people around the world to practice yoga from the comfort of their homes. Now, join Adriene and thousands of Torontonians live on July 6 for this unforgettable communal outdoor yoga…

  • Softer City: Freestyle Socials

    Join Athony Morgan and Aaron Fitzpatrick for their signature hilarious social game, Freestyle Socials. The game is simple! Through yes or no questions, share ideas and experiences about community and connection. There’s sure to be lots of laughter and you might even make a new friend!

Season Advisory

Dalla Lana School of Public Health