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The arts are humanity’s social laboratory, where originality and imagination stir our emotions. From an emerging photographer to a publicity rep, from an avid festival fan to the director of a cultural institution, and, perhaps most important, the restaurateur who brings you a drink and then talks it all over with you afterwards – there are many faces and facets on the road to innovation in the arts.

Here, some voices from Toronto’s arts community talk about what ignites their creativity:

Gaëtane Verna
Director of the Power Plant art gallery at Harbourfront

I am inspired by the imagination of my fellow human beings. I am always mesmerized by their ability to transpose our lives, with their imagination and resourcefulness – to take everyday life or multiple emotions, beautiful things, a beautiful landscape or difficult human subject matter like trauma, anything that is part of the human experience, through use of materials or technology – to go beyond the material to create an artwork.

When I see a work that touches my soul, I keep going in this world looking for the next work of art that touches the soul. When someone comes to the gallery and says “Oh my God, I love this; I don’t know why I love this, but I love this,” that is an experience you keep seeking as a director of an institution. We need, as a society, to think bigger and find areas we can all connect.”

Sarah Dinnick Photographer and graphic designer at Dinnick and Howells and chair of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival board

I am deeply inspired by the connections we have to the built form. How do we experience our architectural spaces as we move through them? My photography explores this connection and is further inspired by the use of light, reflection and transparency to capture people’s complex experiences in those spaces. When you freeze that moment of a figure fleeting or someone lingering, it tells a unique – but at the same time, universal – story. It can be a moment of incredible isolation, empathy, joy or tension. These spaces are part of us and I am further inspired when my images spark a discussion, or at least make us consider the impact of the spaces as we move through them and reveal an intimate portrait of contemporary urban life.

Kenneth Montague
Dentist, collector and owner of Wedge Contemporary Gallery

The photographer Gordon Parks inspires me, as does the show he is part of – Outsiders: American Photography and Film, 1950s-1980s – at the AGO, which is also a part of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. In my opinion, Parks is the smartest man in the world, my personal hero. He was the first black staff photographer at Life. And he later went on to forge the blaxploitation genre, with his film Shaft. His work in A Harlem Story is included in the retrospective of photographers from the 1950s through the 1980s. He told the story of an important time, a place in time. It is a big deal that he is part of the AGO show: he seemed fringy to me growing up. Now it feels seamless, seeing his work with all the others, given the same treatment. The curator, Sophie Hackett, made a decision to do something wow, something great.

Jeff Bierk
Photographer known for his arresting and intimate portraiture of a group of friends who live in what he calls “The Back 40,” a literal and figurative space tucked in the alleyway of the outskirts of society.

I’m inspired by beauty – light, colour, form. I think that beauty is so misunderstood in our culture, something that has been distorted and stolen from us through mass media’s conditioning. I’m told, “This is beautiful, this isn’t. This is what beauty is.” But that’s not how I see things or how I’m affected by the world around me. So, there are some kinds of beauty that I feel are more urgent to express as an artist, to articulate on a platform, because it’s a kind of beauty that is overlooked, not named as such, and not honoured. When I show my photographs, my hope is that viewers can confront their conditioned way of seeing, their stigma, and see the images the same way I do – captured moments of inspiration, of beauty.

Julia Hendrickson
Multimedia photographer/artist, whose work, Under Green Waves, will be featured at Studio 510 as part of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival

I’m inspired by what I cannot see, by what has become invisible. But what I’ve found is that I can examine the invisible (the dead, a dance) through its traces in inanimate objects (their dining room table, a dress). You would think that when you capture a moment it’s preserved, but photographic documentations convey inaccuracies – they decay and disappear just as objects and memory. So why not find inspiration through the creation and markings in objects? In my films, I present fragments of experience and performance investigating what happens when someone or something becomes invisible.

Josh Leblanc
Co-owner of the Track & Field Bar at College and Ossington, festivalgoer

Other people inspire me. I’m a true extrovert, so there’s nothing that gets me more fired up than hearing from people who are doing something interesting or have an exciting experience they want to share. Whenever there’s a big event in the city, there’s a palpable mood and energy shift. It’s that excitement of possibility – anything can happen. The energy of 50 people can fill a room meant for 200 if they’re coming in engaged and creative and having a great time. I get a lot back from that. It motivates me to do more myself when I’m around people who are driven.

Emily Blake
Writer and publicist

The thing that most inspires me is the energy that comes from a city’s nightlife. A “moveable feast” comes to mind. I just really like the things that come together during a party – every type of character, music and fashion and personal expression. I remember just around the time when I moved to Toronto and I found this nightlife blog by a photographer who called himself the Cobrasnake in New York. It was about pictures of kids going to a dance party called Misshapes, named after the song by Pulp. It’s become a huge brand, but back then (2002/2003), it was still local and being followed on just a corner of the Internet. There was every type of person in those pictures and I wanted to meet them all and hear their stories and dance with them. I still love the feeling I get on the way home from a great night out – full of the sights, sounds and stories of the people I met.

Lukus Toane
Director of exhibitions, Gladstone Hotel; painter and installations technician

A lot of inspiration for me comes from my love of labour and participating in collaborative work; in having lots of different people pool their talents and skills in creating a reflection of that interaction. Maybe that’s come from growing up on a farm and baling hay with my pops. It’s very satisfying to be able to see and share the fruits of one’s labour.


This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's advertising department, in consultation with Scotiabank. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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