Tech Walks the Walk with New Augmented Reality Tour, ArtWalk 2.0

By: Lee Rickwood

September 22, 2023

It’s launching this weekend as part of Nuit Blanche, the annual celebration of contemporary art: the final stop on a new augmented reality virtual tour of public art installations in downtown Toronto.

Interactive technology presents a new way to look at outdoor public art in the newly updated ArtWalk 2.0, a free immersive AR app and audio experience that provides virtual visits to more than 70 outdoor public art installations.

Colourful and energetic augmented reality visual overlays animate the locations on the new ArtWalk 2.0 augmented reality app.

An augmented version of the original online map and self-guided walking tour that launched in 2021, ArtWalk 2.0 now includes a downloadable Engage Art app (for either iPhone or Android smartphone, the app is available at or the Apple or Google app store).

Suitably equipped walkers can select one of the now six different ArtWalk “outings”, each with elaborate AR visuals that bring the curated adventure to “life” – a digitally mediated life with its own history, fun facts, cultural context and artist’s story of creative process and vision.

Organized by Toronto Downtown West BIA, ArtWalk 2.0 takes you to areas of interest like those along King and Front Streets, around the CN Tower and other iconic downtown Toronto buildings and public art installations.

ArtWalk online webpage shows map with locations

The original online map and self-guided walking tour launched in 2021.

Residents (there are some 55,000) and visitors (more than 19 million annually!) know there is lots to see and do in the area: cultural landmarks abound: Roy Thomson Hall, Princess of Wales Theatre, Royal Alexandra Theatre, the TIFF Lightbox.  Major employers (and a workforce of some 115,000) call it home: Canadian Broadcast Corporation, Bell Media, Metro Hall. If pro sports are your thing, they are all nearby: Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors. As are performing arts groups like the Canadian Opera Company, the National Ballet of Canada and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

So there’s surely potential for even more immersive experiences in the future, but at present six outings are aptly named after the augmented reality piece featured on each route. Once you’re at the location, open the app and hold up your phone to get colourful and energetic augmented reality visual overlays that animate the locations in a way that only the convergence of people, art and technology can create.

“ArtWalk 2.0 creates an experience where residents and visitors alike can connect with the district’s rich concentration of art and history. It encourages dialogue, ignites curiosity, and transforms Toronto’s downtown into an interactive cultural playground,” Dana Duncanson, Director, Marketing & Communications, Toronto Downtown West BIA, described when the app was first released.

Tomorrow, Saturday, September 23, is when the launch of the sixth AR-enabled location, 401 Richmond Street W., is scheduled as part of the city’s Nuit Blanche activities.

The five original AR stops:

CN Tower, at 290 Bremner Boulevard, with Butterfly mural artist Jo Lalonde (the ‘ChalkChick’)

Dream House, at 14 York Street, ÏCE Condominiums at York Centre, by Artists Vong Phaophanit, Claire Oboussier (pictured above)

Glenn, at 250 Front Street West, in front of the CBC building, by artist Ruth Abernethy (pictured below)

The Poet, The Fever Hospital, in David Pecaut Square, 215 King Street West, by artist Bernie Miller

Triad, 123 Front Street West, by artist Ted Bieler

Digital platform support for the project came from ArtWalk partners at Exar Studios, a London, ON-based tech company. EXAR has developed its own augmented reality toolset, Engage ARt, used to create programming that highlights existing attractions and businesses or creates a brand-new attraction or experiences for a range of clients.

man holds up smartphone in outdoor location

The new immersive augmented reality and audio experience showcases over 70 outdoor public art pieces.

Where possible, Exar creatives collaborated with the Toronto Downtown West BIA as well as the original artists (or their friends and families for those who are deceased), to ensure the augmented reality overlays respected and supported the artists’ original visions, preserving the integrity and intent of their artworks.

“Our consultations with the artists were essential in ensuring that the augmented reality we created remained true to the essence of each piece, only strengthening the viewer’s connection with both the art and the artist’s inspiration,” described Shishir Pande, co-founder and CEO, Exar Studios.

MASSIVart, a global art consultancy and production agency, is supporting the Toronto Downtown West BIA as it raises awareness about the project and promotes the many public artworks in the neighbourhood.

The project was funded by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

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augmented reality image shows musical notes, instruments swirling around statue of Glenn Gould

Glenn, an augmented reality stop on ArtWalk 2.0, celebrates the great Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, and the park bench sculpture of him at 250 Front Street West, in front of the CBC building. The AR experience was created by Ruth Abernethy.








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