Ilana Altman & Dave Carey

09 June

The Bentway celebrates community and collaboration—and it begins at the office. Our team members are dynamic and diligent, with a passion for public space and cultural programming.

We’re excited to welcome Ilana Altman and Dave Carey to The Bentway team as Director of Programming and Director of Development, respectively. Here, they share their thoughts on Toronto, public art, and how The Bentway will transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.


Ilana Altman, Director of Programming

Can you speak to the importance public art in cities like Toronto?

Great cities like Toronto now recognize that public art is not simply an “add-on” but an essential part of the urban experience. Public art allows us to examine our city’s history, mark social and cultural moments in time, and rediscover familiar landscapes in new and unexpected ways. Art presented in the public realm also allows artists to explore new ideas and interact with broader and more diverse audiences, a type of engagement that is not always possible in traditional institutional settings. I believe that inspiring artistic projects—be they permanent or temporary—can help to both identify and engage communities and connect them through shared immersive experiences.

How do you see The Bentway contributing to the city’s cultural landscape?

The Bentway offers a much needed public forum for the presentation of visual and performing artwork in Toronto, especially temporary projects that rarely exist outside of the festival context. However, as an entirely new type of public space in the city, the opening of The Bentway is also an occasion to expand the larger dialogue about the public realm and the opportunity it affords.  

We are so thrilled that the cultural, urban, recreational, and environmental communities across the city share our enthusiasm for the Bentway vision. We are eager to build strong partnerships with existing institutions and community groups and support collaborations to deliver diverse and engaging programming that showcases the best of Toronto.

How will community involvement shape Bentway programming?

Part of the motivation behind the Bentway project was finding a way to unite the discrete communities in and around the Gardiner Expressway. Phase 1 of The Bentway will be embedded in the Fort York neighbourhood, stretching west towards Liberty Village and east towards City Place. There is a remarkable opportunity for this nearly 2 km long artery to unite these communities and stitch this part of the downtown back together.

It is important to us that all these local residents and businesses feel like The Bentway is their backyard. For that reason, we hope to work directly with local residents, businesses, and associations to shape meaningful programming and make the best use of the space.

In addition, we are committed to supporting participatory programming where visitors are actively involved in the creation and evolution of the events taking place at the site. The Bentway provides an ideal setting to challenge traditional audience relationships and support more intimate experiences.

What distinguishes The Bentway from other public spaces around the city?

The Bentway is not a park or a square. It is something onto itself—a covered, linear public space that functions as both a multi-use path and a series of outdoor rooms. There is great potential for the space to work episodically or as one long continuous space.

Additionally, The Bentway Conservancy has made inclusive and accessible public programming one of our core mandates. This principle will shape the design and use of the space from the start. Though many public spaces across the city are now recognizing the importance of programming there are few that have made it so central to their mission. The Bentway can be a real leader in this regard.

What inspires you more generally?

With a background in art and architecture I have long had an interest in cities, and more specifically, in the important role that public space plays as part of the urban fabric. I’m fascinated by the way we shape our cities and how we then inhabit them. I love travelling, exploring other places across the globe and learning from them. I find it incredibly exciting that you no longer have to go as far as Europe to discover weird and wonderful urban moments. Many great North American cities—Toronto included—are now embracing the potential of their public realm to create unique amenities and art offerings.

How do you envision The Bentway’s future? What is your ultimate hope or goal for the project?

I would love to see both the local and broader Toronto population embrace the site and the variety of programming it will support. I hope this is a space where everyone feels welcome.  

I also hope that The Bentway will inspire Toronto to think differently about infrastructure in the years to come. As we grow and demands for space across the city becomes more and more pressing, we no longer have the luxury to think of building projects in terms of single use. The fact that a highway can and will have a double life as a public space for arts and recreation is an amazing precedent for Toronto, and will remain so for years to come.


Dave Carey, Director of Development

You are a self-described “Toronto-phile.” What are your favourite aspects of the city?

From cutesy neighbourhoods to architectural oddities, Toronto doesn’t get enough credit for being such a visually arresting urban landscape. We are a beautiful city. We’re “enchanting.”

I’m happiest when I get to move through this landscape, either on my bike, by foot with a great playlist, or even while I read on the TTC. I love feeling the heartbeat of the city on a fast-moving streetcar (yes, they do exist!). I love seeing all different types of people making their way to wherever they’re going.

My favourite Toronto memories all reflect moments when the city is lit up with festivals and events: Nuit Blanche, Pride, Halloween on Church Street, Fan Expo, a packed Jays game, and the mad film rush during TIFF.

Red Rockets and red carpets? We’re pretty lucky.

How do you think The Bentway contributes to Toronto’s cultural landscape?

When I moved to Toronto, we were in the midst of the so-called ”Cultural Renaissance,” with major capital projects in the works from longstanding arts institutions. New facilities like the Four Seasons Centre and TIFF Bell Lightbox, as well as expansions at the AGO and ROM— among several other projects—raised the bar for what was possible in Toronto. As a city, that took some guts, a great deal of money, and a lot of hard work (trust me).

There’s a real movement afoot to rethink what can happen in public spaces, and a pressing need to use our existing spaces in new ways. Traditional venues like theatres, galleries, and museums will always be essential, but there is so much more hiding in plain sight: parks, laneways, the PATH, the TTC, and, yes, forgotten lands underneath expressways.

The Bentway will reclaim neglected space and transform it into something extraordinary. Something that inspires and surprises. Something that belongs only in Toronto. Something that’s uniquely ours.

How will your past experience with TIFF impact the way you approach your new role with The Bentway?

I worked at TIFF for more than a decade, so I was lucky to see the organization grow—and to grow up with it. I also “survived” the arduous gauntlet of 12 successive annual film festivals. It takes a really special group of people to pull that off year over year.

The family that we build at The Bentway will be instrumental to our success: our staff, our volunteers, our partners and donors, and of course our audiences. Everyone has already been so supportive of the project; it’ll be crucial that we nurture and earn their further support.

Together, we’re unstoppable.

As Director of Development, you interact with many different groups of people. How important are dialogues with community members when developing public spaces and programming?

From day one, Julian (Sleath, our CEO) has understood that community dialogue is truly essential and fundamental to who we are. For the 70,000 people who live within a 15-minute walk of The Bentway, we’ll be their backyard park. As we ramp up towards our opening, we’ll be listening intently to residents’ associations, community groups, programming partners, business associations, and other local stakeholders to ensure we’re relevant, impactful, and—I hope—beloved.

What inspires you more generally?

These are strange days indeed – everyone needs their daily dose of inspiration.

Artists, filmmakers, and place-makers keep me dreaming. Civic leaders, community activists, and acts of kindness/empathy keep me optimistic. The imaginations of my nieces and nephew, my friends, and my husband keep me cheerful.

And though it’s a tad trite for a fundraiser to say this, I’ll say this also: I’m wildly inspired by personal philanthropy. I was genuinely moved by Judy and Wil Matthews’ generosity in bringing this project to life with their founding gift. I hope that it inspires others to write their own love letter to Toronto.

How do you envision The Bentway’s future? What is your ultimate hope or goal for the project?

In the near-term, I’d really like to see us grow into both a backyard park for the local neighbourhoods, and a cultural destination for curious explorers of all ages and backgrounds (and postal codes). I want us to be an ongoing source of surprise and whimsy and wonder. Ultimately, though, I hope that The Bentway can inspire dialogue about sustainability, public space, and how we build cities together.