Since 2011, MABELLEarts has hosted intercultural Iftar Nights in Mabelle Park every Friday evening during the Holy Month of Ramadan. These celebratory events feature musical performances, interdisciplinary art workshops, hand-made lanterns, story-telling around the fire, and delicious treats at sundown prepared by the Mabelle Ladies Cooking Circle. This year, Iftar Nights featured guest performances by Faduma Nkrumah, Sharada K. Eswar, The Making Room Choir, The Ground Floor Choir, Waleed Abdulhamid and The Toronto Ismaili Muslim Youth Choir. A new partnership with The West Mall's Arab Community Centre of Toronto helped us to welcome a total of 114 refugees (primarily from Syria) to the Mabelle Park for Iftar Nights. These special guests arrived on buses from The West Mall neighbourhood and Mississauga, and many continued to participate in our workshops in Broadacres Park throughout the summer.
MABELLEarts is proud to partner with Jane’s Walk and to have participated in their annual international festival for the past four years. This year, as well as our annual Jane’s Walk in Mabelle Park, we hosted a second walk in Broadacres Park - the first ever to be held in Ward 3. Our West Mall Jane’s Walk, entitled Johann’s Woodlot, was the first introduction of many Mabelle Community and Youth Leaders to Broadacres Park. Our walk highlighted the story of Johann Fisch: a West Mall resident who, in 1981, without help or permission, planted five trees in Broadacres Park in the shape of a heart. Since then, he has planted new trees each Earth Day and nurtured natural growth, so that - thirty-five years later - a flourishing forest ecosystem of over eight-hundred trees grows in Broadacres Park.
Art and Nature Camp
From July 25 to August 5, we hosted a two-week art camp for children. Thanks to our new partnership with the Arab Community Centre of Toronto (located right next door to Broadacres Park), we were able to meet and welcome sixty children, many of whom are Syrian refugees, to participate in self-directed play, nature activities, and arts-based exploration of Broadacres Park. Out of these two weeks spent playing, painting, singing and puppet-building came many new relationships, daily rhythms, knowledge about the trees, discoveries about the land and newfound traditions: The Rest Stop under the shadiest tree, the Swing Tree where people gathered in the mornings, and walking the well-used path through Johann's Woodlot. A concurrent camp at Mabelle Park invited 58 children into imaginative art and gardening activities to help grow and nurture the Rain Garden. Mabelle children wrote daily letters to Broadacres, which was a playful way to bring these two communities together. On the last day, Mabelle families visited Broadacres Park for a final celebration, with music, performance and lots of time on the hand-made swing.
Taking these new discoveries with us, we launched into a four-week production period led by artists Leah Houston (Artistic Director), Ange Loft (Director), Sharon Kallis (Environmental Artist), Hussein Janmohamed (Composer), Todd Smith (Arborist) and Sonja Rainey (Designer). The production phase brought together the stories, relationships and imagery gathered throughout the summer and weaved them into a performative, site-specific pageant that we could rehearse and build with the help of community members. Our production period lasted from August 15th to September 9th and consisted of daily afternoon workshops where we worked with performance, natural dying, basket-making, choral singing, bucket drumming, harvesting/foraging, embroidery and other art forms, to build and rehearse for our culminating public event on September 10th: Show Us A Shiny Thing. This was the first of many arts-based community consultations on the future of the park and neighbourhood.
Show Us A Shiny Thing
Show Us A Shiny Thing (September 10, 2016) was a spectacle-based, community-engaged, site-specific performance in Broadacres Park. Starting on the grounds of Applewood Shaver House and leading into Johann’s Woodlot, we invited our audience to share songs, wishes for the park, and stories of impossible tasks - all translated into both American Sign Language and Arabic. Created out of inter-disciplinary outdoor workshops with participants of all ages, this performative and visual exploration of the park was created out of our summer-long process with 350 residents of Mabelle Avenue, The West Mall and newcomers from The Arab Community Centre of Toronto. The performance of Show Us A Shiny Thing included 187 people and incorporated music and sound; environmental, visual, and performing arts to share stories and future visions for this unique Etobicoke green space.
"Thank you great team of devoted people to their heart touching mission: to be in love with your work and each person you meet through making things happen. Personally, words can not express my gratitude to all of you.
And yes: I put down the papers and started. I climbed a mountain myself. I felt so good about myself." - Islam and Omar, Arab Community Centre of Toronto Clients
When we first imagined working in Broadacres Park, we saw it as a part of the transformation process for The West Mall Park (located 5 minutes away). We felt that offering positive arts and nature experiences at Broadacres could lay the groundwork for future revitalization at The West Mall Park, while providing positive and lasting benefits at Broadacres.
However, throughout the summer, we felt these plans shift. Although Broadacres presented many challenges, over the weeks, those of us who spent time there - participants and artists - became increasingly attached to the wide-open spaces, sunny fields, paths through the woodlot and crooked apple trees. There are many things that are difficult about working in a park as big, un-shaded and under-used as Broadacres, but we began to see these things as possibility: space to create something unique.
This summer, we collected stories of people who accomplished impossible things: a single man planting a forest in a public park; Etobicoke residents moving a house to a new location. At first, meeting our artistic objectives felt like an impossible task in itself. Broadacres Park proved a difficult place to work. We faced challenges of limited public transport, minimal foot-traffic, extreme heat/limited shade, and persistent wasps. As well, our participants were primarily newcomers and refugees, many from Syria. We faced language barriers as well as behavioural challenges from children who have experienced trauma. At first, these factors made the success of the project feel very tentative. However, as we continued to move through the summer, our artistic team grew to love the park with all of its challenges: the landscape became more and more familiar to us as we learned more about the plants/trees and established daily rhythms of where to sit together, where to get water, where to gather, and where to play.
We have seen in our work that community-engaged art takes time (in Mabelle Park it took 10 years). This maxim manifested in its own way in Broadacres. It took spending long, hot afternoons together making baskets and hiring translators and pushing children for hours on swings to get to know each other, and to be able to, eventually, really build something together. The relationships emerging over time made the impossible feel reachable and expanded our sense of possibility for Broadacres, deepening the work we created together, and greatly impacting our sense of our future in the neighbourhood.