Client: Multiple - Ontario Business Improvement Areas

Location: Multiple, ON, Canada

Completion date: 2022

Project Team

Project Manger /Advisor

STEPS Public Art

STEPS Public Art

Project Partner

DUKE Heights BIA

DUKE Heights BIA

Lead artist

Whyishnave Suthagar

Project Partner

Burlington BIA

Burlington BIA

Lead Artist

Chriz Perez


I HeART Main Street is a program that started at the height of the 2020 pandemic to provide Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) with the supports they need to activate main streets across Ontario through creative placemaking and public art. From hiring artists and building staff capacity, to showcasing local business stories and engaging communities through one-of-a-kind public artwork, this program provides paid opportunities to Canadian artists while fostering community through challenging times. you can find out more through https://stepspublicart.org/project/i-heart-main-street-program-2022/


I HeART Main Street (IHMS) responds to needs of Business Improvement Areas (BIAs), communities and artists, forging partnerships to create safe multidisciplinary community-engaged public artwork experiences along Ontario main streets. IHMS encourages people to re/discover the talent of Ontario, while simultaneously driving positive economic impact through innovative business-artist partnerships, generating job opportunities for Ontario artists, and increasing Ontario’s profile through online campaigns that instill interest within and outside the province. Goals included:
-Strengthening Ontario’s cultural tourism sector and relationships between cultural/local business sectors province-wide for longer term recovery and collaboration.
-Encouraging safe exploration and sense of belonging with Ontario communities
-Increasing access to public art; live arts and opportunities for communities to safely connect with each other and with Ontario artists
-Generating job opportunities for Ontario artists, prioritizing collaborations with Indigenous, LGBTQ+, Black, racialized and disabled artists
-Facilitating digital engagement and integrated technology that fosters appreciation for Ontario artists at home and across Canada


IHMS increases access and public appreciation of local arts through: publicly accessible art installations; artist talks; live arts creation and opportunities for community to connect directly with artists, which can be experienced in-person or online -encourage learning and exploration among community members through facilitated walking/cycling tours and self-guided scavenger hunts using interactive mapping tools that incorporate digital storytelling, leaving a lasting cultural tourism legacy foster artist-business-community connections: coaching participants in generating public art ideas for their community while facilitating new partnerships between artists and community groups.

The process involved facilitating collaborations between BIAs and various artists based on needs/expertise as well as matching small businesses matched with specific activations. STEPS supported the production of various activations. Digital events included artist talks/live streams (artists profiled; behind the scenes/teaser content) focussed on profiling Ontario artists, cultural tourism and communities to audiences across the province and in other Canadian regions, to encourage future regional and domestic tourism as well as an appetite and appreciation for local public art.

Additional Information

Ontario has been hard-hit by COVID-19 public health outcomes and business closures required to keep our communities safe, causing local communities to seek alternative safe cultural experiences, and local businesses to develop ways to respond to their needs. The pandemic presented an opportunity to create innovative public art offerings that: encourage people to explore neighbouring Ontario communities, and create paid opportunities for Ontario artists, while creating lasting valuable artist-business relationships to support vibrant commercial main streets. This public art program supports long-term development and competitiveness of cultural tourism within Ontario communities, attracts regional visitors and increases business-artist partnerships for more vibrant Ontario communities, ultimately increasing appreciation among local business groups of public art’s power in fostering main street vibrancy and long-term regional cultural tourism. While traditional cultural venues have been shuttered throughout the pandemic, public art remained one of few safe cultural experiences for Ontarians. Public artworks contribute to organic creative placemaking that enhances the quality of life and public space - maintaining vibrancy and supporting resilience in the face of crises.