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United Way’s art initiative allows Scarborough artists a chance to shine

March 22, 2024 by Yuantong Anita Liu

The Toronto Observer
Centennial College
Local artist Sarah Alinia Ziazi joins PwC Canada’s CEO Nicolas Marcoux in unveiling her commissioned art.

Local artist Sarah Alinia Ziazi joins PwC Canada’s CEO Nicolas Marcoux in unveiling her commissioned art | Photo by Daria Perevezentsev/United Way Greater Toronto

On Dec. 8, 2023, Sarah Alinia Ziazi visited PwC Canada, an industry-focused professional services firm that offers audit and assurance, tax deals, and consulting, for a significant moment of her career as an artist. It was time for the unveiling of a colourful piece of the Scarborough-based illustrator and muralist’s artwork on the company’s walls.  

Ziazi is one of several local artists who engaged in an art procurement process established by United Way Greater Toronto that helps elevate and expose the work of artists who live in the Greater Golden Mile to a wider audience of corporate partners.  

The Inclusive Local Economic Opportunity initiative (ILEO) created by United Way and BMO Financial Group is connecting artists with the opportunity to have their work featured in the offices of local companies. In the process, the artists are gaining exposure and business skills. 

“The piece I created for PwC, the theme is about putting your best foot forward and looking forward to creating new possible opportunities and successes,” Ziazi said.  

Her experience illustrates how the same is possible for artists during the upcoming redevelopment of the Greater Golden Mile. With around 75 buildings slated to be built as part of the neighbourhood’s transition, there is huge potential for developers to procure art from local artists.  

There’s also the potential for local artists’ work to be featured on the hoarding surrounding buildings during the construction process.  

ILEO connects local artists with companies  

Ziazi came by the opportunity to create art for PwC through United Way Greater Toronto. She previously designed T-shirts and tote bags for the Golden Mile community as part of the City of Toronto and Scarborough Arts Cultural Hotspot program.  

The ILEO team at United Way proposed the idea of developing something original for PwC Canada, which was looking to procure art from local artists for its new office.  

“It was a huge process,” Ziazi said. “It took like 10 months to complete.”  

Asked about the symbolism of this painting, she said it’s about more than the two girls who appear on the canvas aligned together with two pillars on each side. The painting features smooth lines and vivid colours.  

“It’s a unity between womanhood and femininity and enlightenment of how we see things in a different way and how we want to perceive ourselves,” Ziazi said.  

“And the halo around them represents an enlightenment view of thinking and viewing the future for PwC.”  

Ziazi thinks this art procurement process will encourage Scarborough-based artists to promote their work within the community, as well as outside of Scarborough, to enhance the community in general and raise its profile.  

“Scarborough artists need love, and we work really hard. We are awesome.”  

PwC also bought artwork created by Megan Feheley, an interdisciplinary Cree artist.  

Tammy LePage, National Business Operations Manager of PwC Canada, said both pieces would be displayed on the client-facing floors in PwC’s Toronto office.  

To help expand the influence of the artists, LePage said each piece has a poster with a link to the artist for more information, a description of the forthcoming redevelopment of the Greater Golden Mile and a contact name if anyone is interested in buying or connecting with the artist directly.   

Scarborough artists need love, and we work really hard. We are awesome.

Sarah Alinia Ziazi

“We selected our artists by looking at their earlier pieces, the colour and design, to ensure the pieces would co-ordinate with our new office space and align to our values.”  

PwC Canada, who joined ILEO in 2018, started procuring new art pieces through the program in January 2023. They stayed connected to the artists throughout the year until the unveiling. Nicolas Marcoux, Chief Executive Officer and Senior Partner of PwC Canada, attended the ceremony, along with Chief Sustainability Officer James Temple and 10 of the firm’s staff.  

“We offered the experience and awareness of working with a firm and our procurement and invoicing processes,” LePage said.  

“We hope the pieces that are on display will bring added interest and work for these artists.”  

Local art in condo buildings  

The Daniels Corporation, a real estate builder and developer, is another experienced signatory committed to purchasing local art from artists and artisans where they operate.  

Fatima Saya, its Social Impact Manager, said Daniels had participated in social procurement historically through their projects in the last 15 years by buying or commissioning artwork.  

Opportunities for art procurement in condo and apartment construction are identified based on interior design needs. Local artists are then invited to propose pieces.  

Being a condominium developer, Daniels also established a move-in gift art purchasing program to provide more opportunities for social art procurement.  

“When a condominium purchaser closes on their unit or moves into their unit, we give them a welcome gift. And that welcome gift might be a coaster, a piece of art or a planter, also procured from local artists,” Saya said.  

According to Saya, in 2021-2022, Daniels spent more than $900,000 on social art procurement, including $638,000 on local art procurement. It has co-operated with suppliers who are more than 97 per cent diverse (such as suppliers who self-identify as belonging to an equity-deserving community, not-for-profit or social purpose enterprise) through its social procurement program.  

“It is a place-based program, we always look for artists from Scarborough,” Saya said.  

“Government and social procurement more broadly is the way for us to create local economic development.”

This story was produced as part of a partnership between Centennial College journalism students and United Way Greater Toronto.

United Way ILEO and CIEO Golden Mile

The Centre for Inclusive Economic Opportunity, Golden Mile (CIEO) is a not-for-profit organization founded in 2020 by 10 community organizations to expand economic opportunities for residents of the Greater Golden Mile.

The ILEO Initiative brings together the private, public, and community sectors to find innovative ways to reduce gaps in economic prosperity at the neighbourhood level. ILEO is convened by United Way Greater Toronto and BMO Financial Group.

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