Show Us A Shiny Thing MABELLEarts in The West Mall/Broadacres Park: year one

This summer we celebrated the culmination of the first of our three-year residency in Broadacres Park. Our aim this year was to meet as many people living in The West Mall neighbourhood as possible, of all ages and from diverse backgrounds, in order to build community ownership for Broadacres Park and investment in future projects. From June to September, we strove to bring people into all steps of our process by creating a low-stakes environment to create, play and get to know the park and each other. In doing so, we hoped to build and nurture new relationships, become familiar with the neighbourhood landscape, and grow participation in our future projects.

What We Did

Iftar Nights

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.

Jane's Walk

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.

Production Period

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.

Participation

Over the summer, we welcomed 780 participants from Mabelle and The West Mall as part of our workshops, Iftar Nights, summer camps and final production. In order to facilitate the meeting of the two communities, we put significant energy and resources into providing transportation (buses, taxis, transit fares) between the two parks. As a result, residents from both neighbourhoods were able to begin to form relationships with each other and with new public spaces they would not have otherwise been able to access.

In The West Mall, we met 92 families through The Arab Community Centre of Toronto - most of whom are refugees from Syria newly settling in the city. In spending significant time outside in the park each day, we also managed to meet twelve local families independently of The Arab Community Centre of Toronto, many of whom became core participants in our process and lead performers in Show Us A Shiny Thing. Youth met through The Arab Community Centre of Toronto joined our Youth Leaders program, and collectively volunteered 406 hours at our workshops and events. These young volunteers all received honoraria and were celebrated at a dedicated summer Youth Leader celebration and evaluation.

Throughout the summer, our partnerships with Applewood Shaver House and The Arab Community Centre of Toronto deepened, and we made first connections to local businesses - such as the nearby Tim Hortons. Connecting to local people was the aim at the heart of our project, and we surpassed our goals for outreach and connection in The West Mall neighbourhood. These new relationships will carry us through to next year and our future plans for our residency.

"I put down the paper and started. I climbed the mountain myself. I felt so good about myself." - Show Us A Shiny Thing Opening Song (composed by Hussein Janmohamed and Mabelle Youth, with text from the Mabelle Sewing Room participants)

Participation: The Statistics

  • Attendance at Iftar Nights (3 in total): 202
  • Attendance at Jane's Walk (2 in total): 75
  • Attendance at Broadacres Summer Camp: 60
  • Attendance at Mabelle Summer Camp: 58
  • Attendance at Production Workshops: 198
  • Attendance at Final Performance: 187
  • Total Attendance: 780

"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

Youth Leaders

Many young people have grown up with MABELLEarts over the past decade. They have become experts in our processes and play an increasingly central role in our activities. Many of these youth have articulated that taking key roles with MABELLEarts is a powerful way to build confidence and share cultural and neighbourhood traditions. This summer, our Youth Leaders program, coordinated by Fiona Raye Clarke, expanded to include ten Mabelle Youth and seven Arab Community Centre of Toronto/West Mall Youth.

"I learned how to work, how to make other people happy to learn something from someone." - Shahad, West Mall youth

Mabelle and The West Mall Youth Leaders played a significant role and were essential to our success this summer: assisting with community outreach, childcare, workshop facilitation, Arabic translation, setup/cleanup, performance rehearsal, one-on-one participant support as well as contributing to creative tasks. We also provided support to participating youth in the form of regular evaluative check-ins and by providing high school volunteer hours, reference letters, skill/tool training, and opportunities to connect with professionals working in their fields of interest. Throughout the summer, Youth Leaders volunteered a total of 406 hours, and we look forward to expanding our youth volunteer team next summer to include even more participants from both neighbourhoods.

"Something I learned from MABELLEarts is the importance of using art to bond with others and express yourself." -Iqra, Mabelle Youth

Objectives

As this was our first of three years in The West Mall neighbourhood, we began with exploratory and outreach goals hoping to meet many local residents; get to know the neighbourhood landscape; become acquainted with Broadacres Park; and start to find ways to make art together outdoors in ways that respond to the site's natural elements, surroundings and participating community members. Meeting these goals builds the foundation for a longer-term project at Broadacres Park.

Meet and engage as many West Mall participants as possible

Our aim this summer was to include as many participants as possible in our projects, welcoming people of diverse ages, backgrounds and experiences. At first, outreach in The West Mall neighbourhood was challenging. The West Mall is fairly low-density, has minimal foot-traffic, and no established community gathering spaces. Despite the ongoing help of Mabelle community leaders and our experience in community outreach (phone-calling, flyering, door-knocking and offering transportation/chlidcare), our “tried and true” outreach strategies felt inapplicable to the new location, and we struggled to gain significant participation and engagement.

It was thanks to developing our close partnership with The Arab Community Centre of Toronto, a settlement agency working with many newcomer families in the area, that we were able to reach the majority of our participants, and far surpass our outreach goals. After partnering with The Arab Community Centre early in the summer, we adjusted our outreach plans, inviting Arab Community Centre clients to attend our Iftar Nights and chartering buses to drive them to Mabelle Park. At all three Iftar Nights, we met new families, registered them for camp and invited them to continue joining in our programs. Throughout the summer, The Arab Community Centre continued to support us through outreach, connecting us to 250 families, and bringing 150 people to join our final performance. Along with The Arab Community Centre's support, chartering buses, paying for cabs and offering transit passes were essential to ensuring people could participate.

Increase artistic activity in The West Mall

The West Mall is an extremely under-served neighbourhood, which lacks any significant community gathering places. In 2013, Toronto Life magazine ranked The West Mall neighbourhood 139th out of 140 neighbourhoods in Toronto based on a number of factors including access to housing, the arts, recreation, crime levels and education (data collected by Martin Prosperity Institute). Throughout the summer, we observed participating families grow attached to the location and on-going activities. Broadacres Park became a meeting place for many people - coming both from across the street and from Mabelle Avenue, ten minutes away. Creating a container of self-directed play/participation while offering a wide range of artistic activities for people to wander between and dabble in proved to be extremely successful and allowed us to accommodate fluctuating numbers and welcome new arrivals.

Experiment with diverse art forms using natural materials

Our work this summer was greatly influenced by the amount of time spent being outside on the landscape with people, despite challenging conditions and heat. To avoid the sun, we expected to spend a lot of time in Johann's Woodlot throughout our summer, however, due to an influx of fire ants living in the wooded area, we had to adapt our plans, and find new ways for our artistic process to keep us deeply linked to the woodlot and what it had to offer.

Arborist Todd Smith, led tours through the woodlot for community members and artists and Sharon Kallis and Parker Dirks led workshops in basket-making and natural dying, using foraged materials from Johann’s Woodlot. These activities helped us become connected to the woodlot. Foraging for invasive species, weaving them into baskets and rope, and natural-dying, became an integral part of our work, greatly affecting the aesthetic of our production and the pace of our days, allowing us to stay connected to the land itself.

Identify appropriate forms and cultural practices

We were fortunate to be able to work with composer Hussein Janmohamed and environmental artist Sharon Kallis throughout the development of Show Us a Shiny Thing. Group singing/song-sharing with Hussein and basket-making with Sharon (a traditional craft in many Middle-Eastern countries) both emerged as particularly appropriate forms for this community. Several families indicated that they attended workshops specifically to take part in these activities. Their outcomes became central to our performance.

Create a performance involving many community members

On September 10th we welcomed 187 people to Broadacres Park, for Show Us A Shiny Thing, surpassing our goals of participation/attendance, while demonstrating a range of high-quality artistic outcomes emerging from a collaborative process; reflecting community interests, cultural traditions and concerns; identifying key community leaders; and increasing our visibility in the neighbourhood and the use of Broadacres Park.

Questions

  • What role can city parks play in welcoming immigrants and refugees?
  • How can Toronto parks better serve the cultural and recreational needs of newcomers?
  • As we look to the future of our work in Broadacres Park, we are ask: what kinds of infrastructure and programming can we develop that respond to these questions?

Looking Forward

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.

MABELLEarts

MABELLEarts is driven by our love of people and fascination with neglected and forgotten places. We make art and build environments that foster community regeneration and invention. We cultivate long-term relationships that reveal the transformative possibilities within each unique site, neighbourhood and community. We celebrate cultural traditions, differences and points of connection that help spark collaboration as a creative force for change. We reframe existing social and environmental conditions to make space for new ways of being together.

www.mabellearts.ca • @mabellearts

MABELLEartists Summer 2016

MABELLEarts Staff

  • Leah Houston, Artistic Director
  • Shifra Cooper, Project Manager
  • Daven Seebarran, Development Manager
  • Fadwa Ghanem, Food Coordinator
  • Farah Jibril, Outreach Assistant
  • Osama Jibril, Workshop Assistant

Artistic Team

Marianne Alas, Michael Burtt, Fiona Raye Clarke, Liam Coo, Helah Cooper, Parker Dirks, Melanie Fernandez-Alvares, Hussein Janmohamed, Sharon Kallis, Ange Loft, Sonja Rainey, Adrienne Macus Raja, Todd Smith, Braiden Houle (thanks to Jumblies Theatre), Faten Toubasi

Musicians

Waleed Abdulhamid, Shireen Abu-Khader, Sharada K. Eswar, Emilyn Stam, Faduma Nkrumah, The Making Room Choir, The Jumblies Ground Floor Choir, The Toronto Ismaili Muslim Youth Choir, Alex Samaras, Sarah Albu, Maryem Tollar

Youth Volunteers

Omar Jibril, Nada Johar, Nuha Johar, Karny Koshkarian, Salma Moalim, Aseel Mohamed, Monica Mulugeta, Najila Naseem, Shahad Rubaye, Sana Rubaye, Meezo Shami, Dana Shami, Tasmeen Syed, Tauhid Syed

Language Interpretation

Amanda Hyde, Stacey Park, Salma Abubaker, Shadi Shami, Christopher Desloges

Thanks to our Funders and Partners

Ontario Trillium Foundation, The W. Garfield Weston FoundationToronto Arts Foundation (Animating Toronto Parks), The Toronto Arts Council, The Ontario Arts CouncilThe Canada Council for the Arts, Toronto FoundationService CanadaThe City of Toronto

Arab Community Centre of Toronto, Applewood Shaver House, Toronto Community Housing, Jumblies Theatre

•••

All photos included by Liam Coo • @liamcoo

Created By
MABELLE arts
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Credits:

Liam Coo

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