For public-toilet advocate Stephanie Taylor, the issue of washroom accessibility is a personal one. Trained as a social service worker, Taylor recalls accompanying clients to their appointments while working in Toronto. While en route, they would often have to heed the call of nature.
“Myself and the client needed to find a toilet, and an accessible toilet in most cases,” says Taylor. “And there were so many times where it wasn’t possible.”
Situations like this, Taylor says, galvanized her into the role she holds today as coordinator for “Our Ottawa Needs Public Toilets.” Led by GottaGo! Ottawa, the campaign is being held to raise awareness around the lack of access to public washrooms in the city.
Calling artists in #Ottawa & #Gatineau! We're looking for art pieces that challenge misconceptions about public toilets and draw attention to this as a basic human rights issue. Our Ottawa Needs Public Toilets! ⬇️for submission and honourarium details!https://t.co/wO8SPIF9DC pic.twitter.com/UHVXXckhEs
— GottaGoCampaign (@GottaGoCampaign) July 5, 2021
The project invites artists in the Ottawa and Gatineau region to submit works of art, in hopes of drawing attention to the importance of public toilets as a human right and public health issue.
Submissions to the organization’s art call-out can come in a broad variety of artistic mediums, such as visual art, spoken word, song, and video. Submitting work is free of charge, and artists of all skill levels can apply.
Out of all submissions received, seven will be selected to represent the GottaGo! Ottawa campaign. Those seven artists will each receive an honorarium of $500, and have their work publicly shared. Visual works will be displayed at The Art House Café.
Taylor walked through the idea for the campaign over a video call from her apartment in Berlin. She explained that GottaGo! Ottawa took inspiration from a similar campaign held in Winnipeg in 2019, where advocates specifically engaged the community around the subject of public bathrooms.
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“People volunteered to share their stories of not being able to find a public toilet in Winnipeg,” says Taylor. “They had their photographs taken, and the campaign was using these photographs and putting them in bus stops, and kind of like people indicating that they can’t go on the bathroom, like legs crossed, hands on their lap, this kind of thing.”
Taylor says that whether it’s at the front of mind or not, public washroom accessibility is important. “It’s not a point of interest for very many people. It’s something that we all need, but it’s not something that we think of,” she says.
What does Taylor hope comes out of this campaign? “Community solidarity,” she says. “I think raising it as a public health issue, as a universal need, and pushing past the banality of it, the ‘unsexyness’ of it really, and making it a political priority.”
She notes that the city’s annual budget consultations are fast approaching this fall, and says GottaGo! Ottawa wants to make sure this issue is added to the agenda. Along with 28 signatories, including community associations and local businesses, GottaGo! Ottawa has submitted a letter urging the city to make adding a network of toilets in Ottawa a part of the new official plan.
Taylor references other cities that have done good work around public bathrooms, such as cities in Scotland and Germany, including offering subsidies to businesses for supplies and cleaning services in exchange for making their washrooms public. “It’s possible. Creativity and political will are necessary,” she says.
Correction: An earlier version of this article identified Stephanie Taylor as a social worker; she was in fact a social service worker while living in Toronto.
Find more information about the initiative on the GottaGo! Ottawa website. Artists can submit their work by the extended deadline, Sept. 30, 2021.