Though she’s only 31, artist Bareket Kezwer feels a strong attachment to Baycrest.
“All my grandparents were there at one point or another, in different facilities… My great-aunt who was like a second grandma to me was in the assisted living [section] for a few years… I’ve spent a lot of time there. It felt very much like a community I was part of,” Kezwer, who recently left a job in public relations to pursue mural painting full time, explained.
The facility seemed to her an ideal spot to carry out a collaborative mural project, the production of which drew together residents, clients, patients and staff from Baycrest’s various sections: the hospital, the assisted living facility, the day program and the long-term care facility, as well as a group of existing Baycrest student volunteers from several different high schools in the city.
The initiative has been dubbed the Intergenerational Mural Project.
The two-by-45-foot mural, painted last summer and unveiled in a ceremony in November, is mounted along a wall in the hospital’s north parking lot, facing the Kimel Family Building.
Featuring 25 panels bearing abstract Stars of David and four panels showing thematic images evocative of Jewish values, the mural was created as part of the City of Toronto’s Cultural Hotspot program. Each year, the city selects a different neighbourhood outside the downtown core in which to highlight and foster the development of arts and culture.
For 2016, the chosen neighbourhood was North York, meaning Baycrest fell within its purview.
Kezwer worked with Baycrest’s manager of arts and culture, Aviva Altschuler, to submit a grant application to the city’s Cultural Hotspot Spark Project, and in turn they received $5,000 from the city. In addition, Kezwer held a small fundraiser to cover additional project costs.
In June, she organized a town hall, which all members of the Baycrest community and their families were invited to attend. Brainstorming at the meeting yielded a consensus of themes to be depicted in the mural that speak to key aspects of the Jewish community: life and celebration, lifelong learning, intergenerational relationships and the arts.
The mural also includes the word “community” written in eight different languages – those spoken across the Baycrest community, both residents and the staff who work there.
The painting team, consisting of about 60 people, including the student volunteers, proceeded to spend six weeks painting, with Kezwer leading them in two, roughly hour-long work sessions each day.
“Every day, people were showing up and telling me how much they loved working on [the mural], how much fun it was. People were telling me it made them feel young again,” she noted.
Also noteworthy was the bonding that occurred between the senior citizens and the student volunteers.
“The intergenerational aspect is what helps support community development. Working together is what allows us to learn about each other, support each other and grow together. It shapes our perspective on what it’s like at different stages of life,” Kezwer added.
She stressed that Baycrest has long placed a strong value on arts and culture, in addition to community, and that the mural is a tangible manifestation of that.
“Part of the excitement for those participating in this project was the knowledge that the mural would have a life after they contributed to it, that it would become part of the community.”