Visiting Artist Lecture Series 2023-2024

White text Visiting Artist Lecture Series on red background underneath with subtitle Placemaking: building communities through Art

VALS 2023-2024 – Placemaking: Building Communities through Art

Community is an important part of being an artist and conversely, artists build community, define place, and keep culture alive with their work. Thinking through the elements of placemaking—citizen well-being, reliable public transit, and the overall vitality of a community—VALS 2023-2024 invites 9 artists to speak about the impact of community on their practice, the pivotal role placemaking serves in their works, and the ways in which artists actively build, maintain, and champion their communities.

Fall 2023 Program

Emily Cook: Tuesday, September 26.
Gwen MacGregor: Tuesday, October 3.
Shellie Zhang: Tuesday, October 17.
Erika DeFreitas: Tuesday, October 31.

📍In-person artist talks will take place in AA303, Arts & Administration Building, U of T Scarborough. All are welcome!
🔗 U of T community: Visit calendar on to register
🔗 Public audiences are welcome to drop-in


headshot of Emily Cook in her studio

Emily Cook is a visual artist, arts educator, and cultural administrator. She studied printmaking at OCAD and holds an MFA from Louisiana State University. She runs Paperhouse Studio with Flora Shum. Her art practice includes bookarts, papermaking, printmaking and installation. She is also the Digital Programs Manager at Creative Users Projects and an independent accessibility consultant. As a low vision arts worker, Emily is excited to be working within Disability Arts and Crip Culture. She believes art should be accessible to all. She works on arts and cultural initiatives that create meaningful opportunities for underrepresented artists. She currently lives in Toronto with a lovely roommate and lots of books.

Watch the recorded lecture with Emily Cook.


handcrafted figures of trees hung mid air with audience in the background at a gallery


Gwen MacGregor is a visual artist and geographer working across the disciplines of installation, video, photography, and geographic scholarship. She has artworks in collections such as the Art Gallery of Ontario, Oakville Galleries and the Royal Bank Collection. She has exhibited extensively internationally and has also participated in numerous international art residencies including the International Studio Curatorial Program in New York. She is a Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts Award holder and is represented by MKG127 in Toronto. In 2023 she had a solo exhibition at The Nickle Galleries in Calgary, Alberta. MacGregor is a PhD Candidate in Geography at The University of Toronto. Her dissertation explores the constructions and contestations of nationhood in contemporary art practices presented at The Venice Biennale and Documentation.

Image description: Gwen MacGregor, Treelines Here and There (detail view), 2023

Watch the recorded lecture with Gwen MacGregor.

Installation of Metal Elemental

Shellie Zhang (b. 1991, Beijing, China) is a multidisciplinary artist based in Tkaronto/Toronto, Canada. By uniting both past and present iconography with the techniques of mass communication, language and sign, Zhang explores the contexts and construction of a multicultural society by disassembling approaches to tradition, gender, history, migration and popular culture. She creates images, objects and projects in a wide range of media to explore how integration, diversity and assimilation is implemented and negotiated, and how manifestations of these ideas relate to lived experiences. Zhang is interested in how culture is learned and sustained, and how the objects and iconographies of culture are remembered and preserved.

Zhang has exhibited at venues including WORKJAM (Beijing), Asian Art Initiative (Philadelphia) and the Museum Anchorage (Alaska). She is a recipient of grants such as the Toronto Arts Council’s Visual Projects grant, the Ontario Arts Council’s Visual Artists Creation Grant and the Canada Council’s Project Grant to Visual Artists. She is a member of EMILIA-AMALIA, an intergenerational feminist reading and writing group. In 2017, She was an Artist-in-Residence at the Art Gallery of Ontario. In 2021, she was a recipient of the Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts Artist Award. Her work is in public collections such as the Robert McLaughlin Gallery and the McMaster Museum of Art. Her work has been published in Canadian Art, the Toronto Star, Blackflash Magazine, CBC Arts, and C Magazine. Recent and upcoming projects include exhibitions at The Bentway (Toronto), Capture Photography Festival (Vancouver), and the Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego. Zhang works with Patel Brown Gallery.

Image description: Metal Elemental, 2023. Courtesy of Patel Brown Gallery and Darren Rigo

Watch the recorded lecture with Shellie Zhang.

a hand moving two black and white photographs

Erika DeFreitas’s body of work includes performance, photography, video, installation, textiles, drawing and writing. Placing emphasis on gesture, process, the body, documentation and paranormal phenomena, DeFreitas mines concepts of loss, post-memory, legacy and objecthood. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally including: Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery; Platform Centre for Photographic and Digital Arts, Winnipeg; Gallery TPW, Toronto; Project Row Houses and the Museum of African American Culture, Houston; Fort Worth Contemporary Arts; and Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita. DeFreitas holds a Master of Visual Studies from the University of Toronto. Erika is based in Scarborough, ON. 

Image: Erika DeFreitas, video still, on a more monumental scale, 2019, single channel video, no sound, 4:55 minutes.

Watch the recorded lecture with Erika DeFreitas.