The Luminato Festival is an annual arts event held in Toronto every summer. Now in its 10th year, it features a number of events in and around the city over the course of two weeks, most of them free to the public. Known as Toronto’s Festival of Art and Creativity, it is billed as one of the preeminent arts festivals in North America. A star attraction is the one of the venues itself: the Richard L. Hearn Power Generating Station, a decommissioned power plant that has been transformed into an arts and culture hub for the duration of the festival. Originally operated as a coal-firing plant in 1951, and later converted in 1983 to burn natural gas, power generation was eventually shut down in 1995 due to operating costs and concerns over pollution.
“The Hearn” is located in Toronto’s Port Lands adjacent to the relatively new Portlands Energy Centre. It was used in 2014 and 2015 for hosting individual Luminato events, but this year serves as the main centre for the festival’s many musical, theatrical, and art installations. It is also a popular location for film and television productions, including the upcoming DC Comics Suicide Squad movie.
On my visit, the one thing that immediately strikes me is the size of the building. It is absolutely huge. The towering smokestack, a mainstay of the city’s waterfront and at 215 meters one of the world’s tallest, is even more imposing up close. Entering the space is to explore a vast cavern of criss-crossed metal beams, twisted wires and pipes, and massive concrete blocks. A monument to Toronto’s industrial past, the Hearn is a real treat for urban photographers and adventurers, and normally off-limits to visitors. (In 2008 a man slipped past security to take photos, lost his balance and plummeted down a coal chute – he had to be rescued but later succumbed to his injuries.)
The effort needed to prepare the space for the festival must have been immense. Some sections are paid-only access, such as the stage areas for plays and music performances. Most other areas are free access – these include art installations and gallery spaces showcasing both local and international artists. On the upper level, the old control room has been converted to an exclusive French restaurant (fully booked, of course). At the far end of the building, possibly the most impressive installation is a giant mirror ball suspended from from a ceiling crane. “One Thousand Speculations” by Canadian artist Michel de Broin is the world’s largest mirror ball at 7.9 meters in diameter and set with 1000 mirrors. Rotating with the spotlights on, the space is transformed into a magical starry wonderland.
The festival is on for a few more days, so if you happen to be in Toronto, it’s definitely worth checking out.