Union Station

Is drawing prohibited at Union Station?

Natalie Ierkhova, a blogTO reader and George Brown Art and Design student, sent us a note yesterday regarding what seemed to be some pretty outlandish security measures going down at Union Station. As part of a class project that's been assigned "every year for some time," two groups of about 20 students -- one in the morning (8 a.m. to 11 a.m.) and one in the afternoon (12 p.m. to 3 p.m.) -- visited the station on November 24 to complete architectural renderings and sketches.

The morning session went off without a hitch, but the later group, Ierkhova wrote in an email, "was kicked out by security officers who apparently believe that art and design students can pose a security threat with their drawings." It's understandable why security would have a problem with the students if they congregated in a large group but, as Ierkhova explained, each student "chose their preferred location to sketch" and thus were "not not standing or sitting anywhere in the way of people commuting."

After the students left, "the teacher went to negotiate this issue with the head of security, but it is still unclear what resulted from their talk.... Next Tuesday we are supposed to learn of their decision." That struck me as an odd time frame given that there are surely rules and regulations already in place for how the station handles filming and photography, which should also cover sketching. With regard to the latter, for instance, one is allowed to shoot as long as he or she doesn't use a tripod or pose an obstacle to commuters.

I thus called station security to see if they could clarify the situation. No dice. But, I was directed to City of Toronto communications consultant Alex Mozo, who looked into the matter. According to Mozo, the students are in fact allowed to draw in the station, but only if they have a permit, which the groups on the 24th were not in possession of.

So, while drawing is technically permitted, you have to file the necessary paperwork before doing so. Although there isn't a charge for this type of permission, I wonder if it's not still a bit of overkill. Is there really a need to screen artists and illustration students before they come to do sketches of one of the city's most prominent architectural landmarks? Yes, security measures have tightened pretty much everywhere in the last 10 years, but the relative risk of someone drawing in a train station without formal permission has got to be extremely low, if it really poses a risk at all.

As Ierkhova puts it, "the fact that you cannot come to the station, sit quietly in the corner and draw (or do whatever without violating anyone's rights) seems outrageous."

Photo by tysonwilliams.com in the blogTO Flickr pool.

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