I HeART Main Street BIA Program

What is the I HeART Main Street Program?

Does your Business Improvement Area (BIA) or community have vacant spaces or reduced foot traffic? Are you looking for ways to safely animate and build community along your main streets? I HeART Main Street (also known as Main Street Art Challenge) is a main street recovery program by STEPS and presented in partnership with RBC Royal Bank to support BIAs in realizing creative placemaking initiatives to engage communities, support artists, and showcase local business success stories.

We believe Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) and local businesses are the heart of our communities. The I HeART Main Street Program began in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to support BIAs in responding to difficult circumstances through public art and activating outdoor spaces with the talents of equity-seeking Canadian artists and designers. Since the start of the program, STEPS has supported 50+ BIAs and artists in bringing one-of-a-kind public art projects to main streets across Ontario. Participating BIAs are also eligible for prizes valued at $30,000 to support future placemaking projects.

Participating BIAS will receive:

Pro-Bono Creative Placemaking and Public Art Services

STEPS will provide free tailored coaching (up to five hours) to help BIAs generate ideas, support logistics planning, connect with artists and other resources to realize their creative visions. The focus of this coaching will be on quick DIY oriented creative placemaking methods that will help foster trust and a sense of community among local businesses, residents and artists as part of main street recovery.

This is your chance to experiment! Some of the things we can support you in doing include:

STEPS can also provide the extra support you need to ensure the larger cultural projects you have planned, like community murals, street banners and mixed media installations, move forward in this challenging time.

Connections to Multidisciplinary Artists and Creatives

In order to be considered for I HeART Main Street prizes, participating BIAs are expected to engage a minimum of two (2) artists in paid opportunities, but are encouraged to engage more in activating their main streets. To help realize your creative visions, STEPS is able to connect participating BIAs with our diverse and talented artist network.

Artist Fee Subsidies

BIAs who engage artists from the STEPS Artist Roster or a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) identified artist of their choosing may be eligible for artist fee subsidies of up to $1000!

Audio-Visual Assets, Promotional Tools and Public Programming

STEPS will support BIAs in visually capturing their activations and facilitating interviews with hired documentarians. STEPS will also provide promotional tools to raise awareness about BIA projects for cross-promotion and storytelling, including social media templates, sizzle reels and visuals. STEPS will also utilize digital platforms (social media, website, newsletter, mobile and web applications) to allow communities to safely explore the best of what your BIA has to offer.

Recognition and Resources for Main Street Recovery

STEPS will be providing prizes to recognize participating BIAs who demonstrate ingenuity, creativity and a commitment to community engagement. Prizes will be awarded by a committee composed of local cultural and business leaders and will include a combination of monetary and in-kind support to realize future main street placemaking initiatives.


STEPS will support Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) who meet the criteria listed below. Participating BIAs must:

  • Participate in two (2) planning workshops
  • Have a BIA staff person dedicated to the success of their main street activations, assigned to liaise with STEPS and collaborating artists
  • Engage a minimum of two (2) artists in main street activations to be eligible for prizes
  • Have a minimum of $2000 budgeted for main street activation costs. Keep in mind that the budget you will need for your particular activation will vary depending on its scope and the materials required. STEPS can help you identify ways to minimize project costs, but we have found that this is the minimum amount required to pay artists equitably and procure materials, in combination with the support that STEPS will provide.
  • Participate in cross-promotion efforts to draw attention to main street activations, including sharing content through the BIA’s communication platforms, such as social media and newsletters
  • Provide audio-visual and other content to STEPS so that we can best promote local main street activations, such as: BIA photos, quotes and information on public art in the area
  • Participate in program evaluation activities
Apply and Important Dates

Applications are now open for the 2022/2023 Winter I HeART Main Street Program. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis (space is limited and we recommend applying early).

A free online BIA Information Session was hosted on October 19, 2022, from 3:30 PM- 5 PM ET. This session will be recorded and made available for viewing.

Awards and Recognition

We know that Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) are stretched right now and that creative projects may not be your priority. I HeART Main Street has been designed to help BIAs respond to challenges facing local businesses, and a big part of that is making sure that community members know about what’s happening along your main street. Participating BIAs and businesses initiatives will be featured on STEPS and/or our partner platforms to amplify storytelling and make your stories heard!

We also want to make sure that the hard work of BIAs is recognized, celebrated and amplified!

A selection committee of cultural and business leaders will award several prizes to participating BIAs recognizing exemplary programming. Prizes valued at approximately $30,000 will be awarded to BIAs in support of their creative main street recovery efforts.


Participating BIAS and Artists

I HeART Main Street Summer-Fall 2022

Explore all the 2022 summer and fall public art activations near you as part of main street recovery! I HeART Main Street is presented in partnership with RBC Royal Bank and generously supported by Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, and funding provided by the Government of Ontario. 

Colourful street pole wraps and painted electrical boxes in Downtown Timmins, Ontario

Street Poles and Utility Box Artwork (Timmins)

Downtown Timmins BIA engaged with local artist Katherine Theresa Montigny on a series of colourful artwork inspired by the local community.

A group photo with artists Leyland Adams and Peru Dyer Jalea, and Willowdale BIA to celebrate a new mural production in Toronto's North York

Mural and Documentation Activation (North York)

Willowdale BIA worked with digital content creator Kyle Jarencio to capture visual documentation of a large mural production by artists Peru Dyer Jalea and Leyland Adams. 

Painted picnic table of heritage homes of Downtown Bolton, Ontario by artists Alessandra Vai and Gaby Franks

Painted Picnic Tables (Bolton)

Newly painted picnic tables reflecting the heritage of Bolton can be found around the city by artists Alessandra Vai, Gaby Franks, local students and Downtown Bolton BIA.

I HeART Main Street Fall-Spring 2022

Explore all the 2022 public art activations that happened across Ontario during this fall-spring round. I HeART Main Street, presented in partnership with RBC Royal Bank and ShowLoveTO produced by the City of Toronto, is generously supported by the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative funded by the Government of Canada, Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, and funding provided by the Government of Ontario.

Photo of an art installation with a lightbox showing photos of someones home, there are paper cutouts surrounding it.

Window Installation (Toronto)

Bloor West Village BIA and Hour Studio Space (James Lai and Alexis Venerus) created a unique window installation combining paper art, photography and light!

Mushroom and plant banner by Oksana Hawrylak in Downtown Brockville

Fence Activation (Brockville)

Downtown Brockville BIA engaged with artist Oksana Hawrylak with a folk-inspired banner featuring native plants to the community.

Artists Sima Naseem and Yen Linh Thai posing beside a painted public art mural on a street pole in Clarkson Village, Mississauga

Street Pole Mural (Mississauga)

Clarkson Village BIA worked with artists Sima Naseem and Yen Linh Thai that beautified the main streets with uniquely painted street poles in Mississauga.

I HeART Main Street Summer 2021

Explore all the 2021 public art activations that happened across Ontario during this summer round. I HeART Main Street, presented in partnership with RBC Royal Bank and ShowLoveTO produced by the City of Toronto, is generously supported by the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative funded by the Government of Canada, Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, funding provided by the Government of Ontario, and Ontario Trillium Foundation for activations in Peel Region.

Jocelyn Kearns and local business owners posing in front of a newly painted mural in Belle River, Ontario

Murals (Belle River/Lakeshore)

Belle River – On the Lake BIA worked with artist Jocelyn Kearns on two murals inspired by the community’s beaches and marinas.

GETSO's mural painted in bright colours with abstract shapes and flowers

Murals (Whitby)

Downtown Whitby BIA invited artist GETSO to beautify underutilized alleyways and local business patios with a series of stunning murals.

Justine Wong painting an outdoor mural of a dragon on a parkette.

Parkette Mural (Toronto)

Toronto Chinatown BIA engaged with artist Justine Wong to paint a new community parkette that celebrates nostalgia, resilience and cultures of the people who live in the neighbourhood.

I HeART Main Street 2020

Explore all the 2020 public art activations in the inaugural launch of the program (also known as Main Street Art Challenge)!

Image of an illustration of two people looking to the right.

Hoarding Exhibit (Malton)

Malton BIA and artist Lindsay Hill created a hoarding exhibit that welcomed international travellers arriving from Toronto Pearson Airport.

Duncan C. McLean's Main St exhibit that has high-rise condos in Toronto, there are patio umbrellas and street visible

CafeTO Patio (Toronto)

Cabbagetown BIA collaborated with artist Duncan C. McLean to design beautiful artwork for CafeTO outdoor patios.

Gosia Komorski painting a ground mural in Toronto's Leslieville neighbourhood

Ground Mural (Toronto)

Leslieville BIA engaged with artist Gosia Komorski on a bright ground mural for the community to enjoy outdoors.

STEPS Public Art App

Explore the free STEPS Public Art App to find I HeART Main Street public art activations and learn more about the projects virtually. The app includes self-guided walking tours for safe and engaging community experiences, an interactive map to find public art near you, and artist profiles to learn more about the creatives behind I HeART Main Street activations.







Find the STEPS Public Art App on the App Store and Google Play (or scan the QR code below). The Web App is also available (no download required). Leave a review so we can continue shaping your digital experience with I HeART Main Street!

QR code that scans to the STEPS Public Art App via App Store or Google Play


I HeART Main Street 2022 is presented in partnership with RBC Royal Bank and generously funded by the Government of Canada, Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, and funding provided by the Government of Ontario.

I HeART Main Street funder logos including RBC Royal Bank, Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, and the Government of Ontario

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is I HeART Main Street a grant?

No, I HeART Main Street is not a grant. While STEPS is providing artist fee subsidies up to $1000 which we will pay directly to participating artists, the BIA will be responsible for any additional fees required to realize your proposed project.

What if we have engagement ideas that are not on the list of placemaking methods?

That’s great! What you see listed in the I HeART Main Street guidelines are just some possibilities. We look forward to hearing your ideas and brainstorming how they can be realized. While not all project ideas will fit the limited budget and scope of this program, STEPS provides year-round services for BIAs, municipalities, property owners and community groups to enhance public spaces in their communities. Visit our suite of Creative Placemaking services and Main Street Recovery services available.

When do projects need to be completed?

Project deadlines will be shared with BIAs and artists participating in the respective program rounds.

Our BIA has a particular brand. Can we do something that aligns with our look?

Yes, the activations that each BIA hosts will be unique to the personality of that BIA. The artists in our network are incredibly diverse in their style, and many can produce creative works that respond to your unique needs, aesthetic and themes.

Can we work with artists who we know or who are from our neighbourhood?

BIAs are welcome to engage whomever they wish in I HeART Main Street activations. STEPS is committed to providing equitably paid opportunities for diverse emerging artists. To make it easy for BIAs to do this, we are offering up to $1000 in artist fee subsidies for BIAs who engage artists from the STEPS Artist Roster or local BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) artists not on the STEPS roster.

The program has a short turnaround time, and not every artist will be available to respond to BIA requests. If there is a particular artist you are interested in collaborating with, we encourage you to name them in your I HeART Main Street application.

How much do we need to budget for our placemaking ideas?

I HeART Main Street is not a funding program, but STEPS is providing support that can help reduce the cost of realizing your placemaking ideas! I HeART Main Street is focused mainly on short-term, low-budget solutions. Our team is able to help you develop an appropriate budget for a placemaking idea. Before applying, it’s important that you have an idea of how much funds you can invest in streetscaping. This will help us suggest ideas that are within your budget.

Will the I HeART Main Street artist fee subsidy cover all payments to artists?

Artist fees should reflect the scope of work that an artist has been engaged for. We can help you calculate an appropriate artist fee for your proposed activities. To do this, we refer to CARFAC (Canadian Artists’ Representation/Le Front des artistes canadiens) rates as guidelines for minimum fees. Your BIA may be eligible for artist fee subsidies up to $1000, which STEPS will pay directly to participating artists. The BIA will be responsible for any additional fees required to realize your proposed project.

What other costs might there be other than artist fees?

Budgets for each project will look different. Production costs could include printing of vinyl wraps/sidewalk decals, paint for murals and street furniture ornamentation, or the installation of street banners. While STEPS may be able to help participating BIAs access discounts through our supplier network, production costs will be paid by the BIA directly to vendors.

What about physical distancing and other COVID-19 pandemic restrictions?

Main streets have experienced a lot of change – both physically and how people are interacting in them. It is important that we continue to follow public health guidelines designed to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19. I HeART Main Street is focused on supporting COVID-19 safe creativity. Our staff will encourage you to think about ways to engage your community while respecting dynamic public health guidelines.

Can our BIA keep the artwork created through the I HeART Main Street?

If you would like to publicly display the artwork beyond the length of the I HeART Main Street or incorporate it into any BIA marketing materials, it’s important to share your vision for its use at the start of the project with both STEPS and collaborating artists, as the usage may impact design considerations or how the artwork is documented. STEPS can help you develop a contract between participating BIAs and artists that grants permissions or limitations on the artwork’s use.

If our BIA applies through the online form, am I guaranteed to be approved to participate?

While STEPS will make best efforts to include all interested BIAs in the I HeART Main Street, due to limited resources there are only a set number of spots available. We want to ensure that the support we are providing will be useful in achieving both the BIAs goals and our charitable mandate. If we receive applications from more BIAs than we can support, we will support the BIAs for whom we can have the most impact. If a BIA submits ideas that seem outside of the scope of I HeART Main Street but STEPS can support in other ways, we will follow up to discuss this with you.

If this is the first time you are undertaking a project of this nature and your ideas are still in development, that’s okay! We encourage you to still submit an application and if we’re unable to support your BIA through this I HeART Main Street round, we may still be able to help you advance your activation ideas through other opportunities.

I am a local business or property owner based in a BIA. Can I register on behalf of the BIA I am a part of?

We understand that many BIAs are run by very limited staff or volunteers who may be apprehensive about applying to I HeART Main Street due to a lack of capacity to fully participate. If you are a local business owner, non-profit or property owner who feels your main street would benefit from participating in I HeART Main Street, and is equipped to participate on behalf of your local BIA, we encourage you to apply, but please let your local BIA representative know you are applying.

When you are completing the application form, there is a place to provide “additional information about your BIA”. We ask that you use this space to describe your relationship to the BIA, why you are registering on their behalf, and whether BIA staff are supportive of the registration.

I am a local business or property owner located outside of a BIA. Can I register solo or with a group of other local businesses?

At this time in order to ensure you have the local support and resources needed to successfully participate in the program, I HeART Main Street is focused on working with BIAs. That being said, STEPS frequently collaborates with businesses, property owners and community groups outside of this program. View our suite of Creative Placemaking, Main Street Recovery and Public Art Management services to see some of the ways we collaborate with others, and reach out if you are interested in exploring a partnership.

If your local municipality has not yet established a BIA but you would like to bring public art to your community, please contact us so we can better understand your needs.

How many projects/BIAs will win I HeART Main Street prizes?

The number of prizes and their categories will be announced as soon as possible. Prizes to support future creative placemaking initiatives by winning BIAs will include artist fee subsidies and in-kind production support.

Can two BIAs apply together?

If your BIA is located adjacent to another BIA, you may prefer to apply together to collaboratively develop activations. Please indicate this clearly on the form and outline what you have in mind, as well as which organization is providing what resources, as well as who will be the point of contact for program participation. Artist fee subsidies would be determined by the amount of artists you engage.

Are you willing to support Northern or rural communities?

Yes, STEPS is especially interested in supporting Northern and rural communities! We strongly encourage BIAs from these communities to identify artists to collaborate with from their regions.

Does the installation need to be permanent?

No, installations do not need to be permanent. It is up to the BIAs how long they would like them to last.

What does the application involve?

To apply for I HeART Main Street, please submit the application form (if a link is not available, this means applications are closed for the current program round).

While we are not looking for BIAs to have detailed plans for their proposed activations, you should have some ideas that have been developed in consideration for your local community needs and opportunities, as well as identified resources to ensure their success.

Who owns the artwork once it is taken down or is it stored, given away, or returned?

At the end of the program, what happens to the artwork depends on the agreement the BIA and the artists have, and will have to be negotiated during the contracting process.

Previous Arrow
Next Arrow