If TTC riders travelling the University subway line find their attention drawn to the platform of Museum station, they’ll notice some very unusual columns holding up the roof. Today brings not only the formal unveiling of iconic Greek, Chinese, Native North American and Egyptian designs throughout the station, but also marks Toronto’s introduction to a new twist on charitable giving.
It’s not unusual for private donors to support cultural institutions — including major renovations to the two museums above this transit stop — but the “Arts on Track” program represents the first time donated funds have gone to substantially remodel subway infrastructure.
Two-fifths of the $5-million Museum project came from a mix of individuals, families, charitable organizations and businesses with another $2 million from the province of Ontario and $1 million from the TTC. The columns, invoking designs from the Forbidden City palace in China and an ancient Toltec temple in central Mexico, just might convince riders to go upstairs and explore related galleries in the Royal Ontario and Gardiner museums.
There are also examples of white Doric columns used in Greek temples, a “house post” based on a First Nations structure from British Columbia and a column representing the Egyptian god Osiris. The walls of the station also include hieroglyphic inscriptions from a 4,300-year-old Egyptian tomb. Explanations of the imagery can be found on a plaque located on the subway platform.
The Toronto Community Foundation, through which the donors combined their gifts, came to the TTC in 2005 with an offer to beautify Museum station. Foundation president Rahul Bhardwaj says the plan developed out of concern over a “state of decline” of the city’s public spaces. He says donors, along with planners and community advocates consulted for the project, felt “the subways were not reflecting, below ground, the type of vitality that Toronto was expressing above ground.”
While senior governments often kickstart fundraising campaigns for cultural institutions in order to inspire others to contribute, Museum station is a case of philanthropy leading the way. A major donation of $1 million came from the estate of Budd Sugarman, an interior designer who was known as the “unofficial mayor of Yorkville.”
The Arts on Track charitable program is eventually intended to visually link St. Patrick TTC station to the nearby Art Gallery of Ontario as well as Osgoode station with its adjacent opera centre. Bhardwaj says discussions with possible supporters of these projects are only in early stages, but adds, “We hope (the Museum station unveiling) will get more attention onto how we can improve public spaces in this city.”
TTC chair Adam Giambrone says if interested parties come forward, “We will be excited to work with them in the rejuvenation of the stations.”
He says an entrance of the nearby Bay station on the Bloor-Danforth line will be upgraded soon, largely with funds from local businesses. He adds that the transit agency recently formalized the way private sector donors can contribute to transit infrastructure.