Transforming the city with art | Work of Arts
Transforming the city with art | Work of Arts

Transforming the city with art

by | January 14, 2014
Photography by Curtis Trent
Arts alumna Toscha Turner brings visual art, music and performance to underused public spaces.

So many of us move through our days with our heads down, focused on the next errand or text message. But U of A Arts alumna Toscha Turner (’02 BA/BMus, ’08 MA) is using the arts to get Edmontonians to look up at the urban landscape around them.

“I love transforming neglected space into something that’s meaningful for the community,” says Turner, a U of A alumna and musician. After moving to New York to pursue doctoral studies in ethnomusicology at the City University of New York, she returned home to Edmonton to start a family with her husband. Since then, she has used her musical background, passion for community building and leadership skills to add life to Edmonton’s urban spaces.

As a program director with the Edmonton on the Edge: Alley of Light Project, Turner has helped to produce illumiNITE, an outdoor event that transforms a downtown alley into a light-filled gallery during the wintertime. This on-going project brings together businesses, artists, designers, media and University of Alberta museums, and has made headlines since its creation in 2012.

Turner has also coordinated other arts events in the same alley space, including the 2012 Alley of Light Street Arts Festival, which involved dumpster-wrapping and mural creation, and the 2011 Arts 4 the Alley event, in which local musicians transformed a loading dock into a concert venue.

“I love transforming neglected space into something that’s meaningful for the community.”

With Edmonton’s Mercury Opera, Turner has helped bring operatic performance to public spaces (including the underground transit system) in the city’s core.

Most observers are excited by their unexpected encounters with art and music. “I think people like the idea of coming across a surprise and feeling like they’re in on something,” says Turner. Of course, not everyone embraces public art. “I think any time you see public art and any time there’s money and time put into it, there’s some cynicism about why (the government) should devote public money to it,” she says.

But more and more Edmontonians are seeing the value of public art, and arts funders are devoting more resources for public art projects. “If you think about the great cities of the World – and New York is one – the things that make it great are the public spaces,” she says. And not only does public art help put Edmonton on the map when it comes to culture, it brings the arts to different audiences. “It makes (art) way more accessible,” says Turner.

More and more Edmontonians are seeing the value of public art.

Born and raised in Edmonton, Turner has been a musician since signing up for the school orchestra in Grade 5. She studied music at the U of A with a focus on piano performance, but ended up falling in love with the double bass – a very male-dominated instrument – as an undergraduate student. Now, she teaches double bass and many of her students are women.

In spite of her high-profile projects, Turner says she didn’t realize her impact on the community until earning an Avenue magazine Top 40 Under 40 award in November 2013: “It’s so easy to work within a vacuum.”

Related Links:

Edmonton on the Edge: Alley of Light:

To learn more about Toscha Turner, visit her website at

Read the Avenue magazine profile at

Feature photo: Toscha Turner with her son, McKinley Sharek, in the Belgravia Arts Park.

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