Artists’ Newsstand transforms Chester Station kiosk
Featured Story: Artists' Newsstand
For years, the Gateway Newsstand kiosk at Chester Station remained vacant. Built into the architecture of the station, the kiosk stood unwanted and forgotten until local resident and multidisciplinary artist Jess Dobkin saw an opportunity to enliven the space through art. She states “I’ve always been attracted to this physical space, for me it’s a little theatre.” In May 2015, Jess and a “small and mighty collective of Toronto artists” opened the Artists’ Newsstand.
“It’s not a pop-up and it’s not a gallery that happens to be in the subway,” explains Dobkin, “To me, it’s really important that it maintains its identity as a newsstand, and that’s why it’s also important that we’re selling candy bars, and Pepsi, and tissues and tums.” However, the majority of the newsstand’s real estate is devoted to original and unique artist-made items, including zines, buttons, silkscreened tea towels and more. There’s even a lending library. Among Jess’s favourite feature of the newsstand is Catherine Heard’s Magic Gumball Machine of Fate where for a toonie, anyone can purchase a one-of-a-kind artist multiple (current artist: Lyla Rye). In addition to the newsstand, local and international artists are invited to animate the space.
Since it’s opening, the space surrounding the kiosk has been utilized by many including Syrus Marcus Ware who organized a disability showcase, performance artist Keith Cole who wandered the station in a wedding dress while attempting to ‘seduce’ the newsstand, and Harley Spiller who gave an artist talk on his love of newsstands, Chinese food, and found pennies.
With every animation, there’s an element of surprise. On November 19th just as Harley Spiller began his presentation there was a suspension of subway service, causing a swarm of commuters to crowd the upper level of the station where the newsstand is located. Many people passed by with confused looks on their faces, no doubt wondering what was happening, while many stopped to listen amongst the confusion. “I love the idea of an unsuspecting audience” Jess says. “It’s not necessarily an event where you come in and get your ticket and you’re there for the duration of the performance,” she states, noting that presenting art in a public place offers a different mode of engagement.
The Artists' Newsstand is a multi-layered project; it’s a social experiment on public engagement through art, it’s a re-vitalization of a space originally designed to sell newspapers in a time when many access their news digitally, it’s a collaboration between the Newsstand, the artists who come to animate the space, and the TTC. The Artists’ Newsstand is an experiment. With each animation, Jess considers the needs of the artists (such as Harley’s need to project a video), and asks herself: “how do we do this in a way that’s working with the TTC, and respecting the commuters? We’re not aiming to disrupt, but to engage.”
Dobkin and the Newsstand collective have a one year lease on the space, which takes them to May 2016. When asked if they’re planning to renew, Jess said that anything can happen at this point. What’s clear, however, is the strong sense of community that the project encourages. Dobkin notes the relationships she’s formed with commuters, her neighbours, and the TTC which has been very supportive of the project. Jess points to the right of the kiosk; “That’s Tony in the booth right now. [The booth staff] change out every 3-4 months, so Tony’s here until December 21st. I think we’re going to have a little party for him when he moves on.”
Check out The Artists’ Newsstand Facebook page for news about upcoming events at the kiosk. The Newsstand is open on weekdays from 3 to 7pm.
The Artists' Newsstand was funded in part through Toronto Arts Council's Visual and Media Arts Project Grants program.