Countdown to Culture Days: Tapestry for Beginners

Check out Tapestry for Beginners at Leaside Public Library on Friday, September 28, 2012 from 2:00 pm – 5:00pm

Image courtesy of Christian Badanjak

Tapestry for Beginners with Juana Sleizer

In this activity, participants will learn the basics of tapestry weaving in a playful environment. Results will be surprising. You will experiment with unusual materials to create colourful textures and shapes while listening to music to help inspiration. Loom and materials will be provided and you will keep the loom for yourself. Program includes:
Getting acquainted with the materials (e.g. yarns, fabrics, etc.); notions of tapestry; looms; warp and weft; a little bit of history; how to begin and how to lock a weaving.

In collaboration with Culture Days and the Neighbourhood Arts Network, Toronto Public Library hosts Toronto-based artists and arts organizations in a celebration of arts and culture at library branches throughout the city of Toronto. Culture Days @ The Library takes place September 28-20, 2012. Check out this year’s lineup and make a personalized schedule at


Spotlight on Weston and Mount Dennis

Weston and Mount Dennis is one of the areas of focus for the Toronto Arts Foundation’s Arts Impact Study. This community-based research project aims to better understand how Toronto residents interact and engage with the arts at a local level. As research continues we are highlighting the activities of artists and arts organizations working in Weston and Mount Dennis.  

Extending along the eastern bank of the Humber River, Weston and Mount Dennis are communities animated by historic roots and contemporary artistic activity. By the mid-twentieth century Weston and Mount Dennis were manufacturing centres that produced industrial goods for consumers across Canada. Today factories are being replaced by malls as Weston and Mount Dennis make the transition to a post-industrial economy. The connection between Weston and Mount Dennis is a legacy of census tracts as well as proximity. Although they both border the Humber River, Weston and Mount Dennis have distinct histories and face different physical realities. Individuals reflect the complex relationship between these areas; while some people identify as residents of either Weston or Mount Dennis others make no distinction between the two neighbourhoods. Amid these transformations, the arts empower residents to engage with their communities and create positive change. Several arts-based organizations have made a commitment to capacity building and creative expression in Weston and Mount Dennis.

Urban Arts is a non-profit charitable youth organization that offers arts based-programs in the former City of York with a specific focus on Weston and Mount Dennis. Professional artists work with youth to engage in community development through the arts.

The HopeWorks Connection, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to empowering youth through the performing arts and relieving poverty. Since its establishment in 2001, HopeWorks has partnered with schools, agencies, governments and churches to offer a variety of performing arts experiences and workshops to youth of all ages. HopeWorks signature program, TC3 – The Toronto Children’s Concert Choir and Performing Arts Company, the signature program of the HopeWorks Connection is geared to youth ages 7 to 18 years

West Won Fest is a community festival celebrating success in Mount Dennis that is now in its second year. The festival was born out of the desire of residents to recognize the success that they witnessed in their neighbourhood on a daily basis but which was not necessarily known throughout the city nor covered in the mainstream media.

106 & York is a youth urban arts festival. As a branch of Manifesto Festival of Community and Culture, 106 & York invites North West Toronto communities to unite in celebration of artistic talents of the local youth. This year, 106 & York partnered with Urban Arts to present CultureShock, a celebration of talent in the Weston community.

The community-engaged arts organizations of Weston and Mount Dennis build on the skills and insights of local residents. The people of Weston and Mount Dennis are full of ideas about the arts in their neighbourhood. One child living in Weston wrote this suggestion at a community meeting:

“Make a sidewalk called “CSOC” meaning Colourful Sidewalk of Communities. Where people can put their name on it. And all of these names together will be an art and represent our big Weston Family.”

Read on to learn about individual artists living and working in Weston and Mount Dennis.

Adeena Greaves is an R&B singer who is also known by her artist name, Cookie. She believes that community centres play a large role in the arts in Weston and Mount Dennis. Adeena met her producer and mentor, Keith Sweeney (DeepThought) after performing at a local community centre. Music is now her primary activity. She says: “Before I just used to work, and now I don’t do anything else but music.” Adeena’s involvement with music has made her more aware of the arts in her neighbourhood. “Once I started becoming more involved with music, that’s when it became an eye opener to all these workshops and people who are willing to help artists.” She has performed at community-based events such as Grenada Day and an annual show organized by the local police division. These opportunities inform her music. She explains: “When I’m doing shows like the police division shows and Grenada Day shows, you want to be able to write inspirational tracks for youth out there…so when I do have those events for community stuff, I’m singing the right song for the right venue.” In general, Adeena is satisfied with the range of art forms that are practiced in Weston and Mount Dennis and believes that community centres are well suited to connecting people to these different forms of creative expression. “I like how it is in our community. And that they have community centres that will allow you to sing, do graffiti, to produce, engineer and do photography. Different forms of art that people love to do. There’s so many different places you can go to express yourself.”

Robin Breon is a theatre critic and playwright who has lived in Weston for more than twenty years. For Robin, inclusivity and diversity are key features of the Weston community. “I couldn’t imagine living in a neighbourhood that was not multi-cultural and multi-racial, so I like the fact that Weston has a lot of different cultural influences and is a very multi-racial community, I am comfortable in places like that.” Despite the positive impact of diversity, Robin believes that arts activities in Weston are limited by a lack of facilities. “We don’t have the kind of centre that would be helpful for artists in a cross-disciplinary way. That is a barrier and a challenge for people who want to work locally, express themselves and organize in the community; for the artist that is a huge challenge.” However, he believes that Urban Arts is changing access to the arts in the neighbourhood.  “Urban Arts has a leadership role in the artistic component of this community.” Specifically, Robin says, “I think some of the activities I have seen Urban Arts involved in, the local community theatre work that I have seen go on, all helps to uplift and enrich the community.”Overall, Robin recognizes the diversity and creativity of Weston but believes that the area needs more support to develop these assets. Discussing his dreams for the arts in his neighbourhood he says: “I would like to see a community centre, a performing arts centre. It would be great for the youth. It could really revitalize the whole community and that could be started with the arts, the arts could generate that.”

Devon Brown is a visual artist living in Mount Dennis. His creativity has inspired his daughter to pursue the arts and he also volunteers teaching art to children at the Learning Enrichment Foundation. Devon believes that the arts contribute to the quality of life of the people who live in Mount Dennis. He says that the arts show “the vibrancy of the place and the differences that the arts give to the community. It makes the community more alive. It puts life in the community and makes it more beautiful.” Devon is convinced that art is a force of positive change in the neighbourhood. He says “There are a lot of things that could happen for this community if it is connected in the right way. Because lots of these kids and people around here have lots of talents in the arts, but they don’t have no one to boost them or pave the way or give then that first start, to make the first step.” In terms of his own artistic development, Devon is self-taught and highly motivated. His art is both personal and deeply connected to his community. He explains “you have to just keep on that track and don’t let no one take you off that track and mislead you somewhere else. Because it’s really good and it’s helpful. It can really help everyone in the community.” As his approach to the arts indicates, Devon is an example of an artist who is committed to expanding his practice while also engaging with the community.

For NAN member Melissa Calder, the arts empower her to “create a balance between work and things I enjoy.” While Melissa explores printmaking and painting and her husband is a musician and she believes that their “social circles have expanded by people involved in the arts.” Despite her interest in the arts, Melissa feels isolated in her neighbourhood. She explains, “I am currently not a leader, but I want to contribute and I want to help out. I feel pretty solitary.”Melissa made connections with other artists and community leaders as a volunteer for the Arts Impact Study. She attended team meetings and assisted at events. In addition to her activities as a volunteer, Weston shapes Melissa’s art in other ways. First, her art is inspired by her physical surroundings. She says “I often go [to the Humber River] to draw or sketch and take photographs as preliminary work. So I think that [the beauty] definitely influences all facets of my art.” Melissa’s art also reflects the people of the community. “In terms of the neighbourhood and population, I think that influences my political bent in my posters and prints about issues.” As an artist and a community activist through her involvement in the Arts Impact Study, Melissa is well positioned to create connections in Weston.

Zeesy Powers is a multidisciplinary artist whose video and web work ties into live theatrical performance. The arts are central to her personal growth and have contributed to her professional opportunities. “Having a space to learn about and create art allows you to just learn so much about the world and lose your fear about exploring and learning.” Zeesy’s experiences as an artist gave her the tools to pursue a career at a bio-tech company. “A lot of the skills that I’ve learned through the practice of making art have led me to attain the skills I now have today.” She identifies flexibility as one of the most important aspects of being an artist: “being an artist doesn’t mean that it’s the only thing that you’re going to do.” Despite the impact of arts in her life, Zeesy feels disconnected from the arts in Weston. She attributes this in part to the physical environment of the neighbourhood. First, she explains that “this area is considered one geographic area as a whole, but even one end to the other, it’s difficult to get around.” In addition Zeesy thinks that local infrastructure does not incorporate the arts. As an example she mentions “the kind of development of these strip malls, without any real artistic elements or thought of long-term sustainability.” Zeesy also has difficulty learning about local events and suggests, “There should be a designated postering spot so people can promote what they need to promote.” Zeesy believes that change involves both resources and attitudes.  She advocates new ways of thinking about community arts. “When it comes to the arts, there’s an old Toronto mindset of what a community space is; schools, malls, a community centre. But we have to think beyond that. There needs to be a space for adults that isn’t just a park or something.” Overall, Zeesy would like to see a greater artistic presence in the community because she knows from personal experience that the arts contribute to quality of life. “I’d like to see more opportunity for the artists to contribute their talents to the development of the neighbourhood.” However, Zeesy knows that the arts are already having an impact in Weston; she reflects, “Who knows what this place is going to look like in 5 years? Things move really fast.”

Emily Macrae is the Neighbhourhood Arts Network 2012 Summer Intern

Spotlight on Regent Park: Dancing with COBA

On August 1, 2012, Collective of Black Artists (COBA) moved to a new home on the main floor of the Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre. Nicole Griffith-Reid, Executive Director of COBA, and Dammecia Hall, a company member, discuss the new space and COBA’s evolving role in the Regent Park community.

Dammecia Hall and Nicole Griffith-Reid prepare for COBA’s move to the Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre.

Noting the community-engaged focus of other organizations in the neighbourhood, Nicole is excited for COBA to “be part of somewhere that’s already a destination.” Combining performance and rehearsal space, the RPACC studios provide fantastic infrastructure that is customized to COBA’s needs. The new location also offers improved accessibility and visibility for COBA’s programs. From a programming perspective, Regent Park is a ‘very young community’, and that fits with COBA’s mission and mandate. COBA has already created inroads to the community, participating in Sunday in the Park for the past three years, performing for Artscape  and partnering with Pathways to Education.

For Dammecia Hall, packing up twenty years worth of costumes and instruments is a learning experience in itself. Dammecia has been dancing since she was five, and has just finished her first year with COBA. Although she started learning ballet at a young age, she discovered West African Dance at age 13. Excelling in both hip hop and West African Dance, Dammecia describes herself as “not just a one-type dancer.” For Dammecia, the two kinds of dance complement one another because “a lot of hip hip has originally come from West African dance.” In fact, Dammecia points out that skills and techniques “bleed into each genre, so that West African Dance helps hip hop and hip hop helps West African Dance.”

With its emphasis on both contemporary and traditional dance forms, COBA offers Dammecia a diversity of artistic choices. She explains, “It’s rare to find a place that hold all those disciplines at the same time; COBA has that path.”

Nicole agrees that COBA is “speaking to different dancers out there.” Just as Dammecia explores the relationship between hip hop and West African dance, Nicole says that “COBA tries to reflect how dance has evolved and make it relevant to contemporary urban students.”

Reflecting on her own development as a dancer, Dammecia contrasts her experiences in Toronto and Winnipeg. She moved to Toronto from Winnipeg in order to audition for and join COBA. Although Dammecia found that Winnipeg offered opportunities in certain kinds of dance, such as ballet, there was “not much in the way of African dance.” Coming to Toronto was “intimidating,” but Dammecia asserts that “the passion of the dancer usually outweighs that; you want the challenge.” She is energized by the resources available in the city. At COBA, Dammecia hones her skills as both a teacher and a learner. She attends sessions and rehearsals as well as leading a drop-in hip hop class. Among all of the dance activities in Toronto, Dammecia says the trick is “finding your pocket.” In her case that means teaching at a local gym and dancing in music videos, in addition to working with COBA.

COBA creates opportunities for audience members as well as dancers. Nicole explains that traditional dance is rooted in “lived experience” of “something as simple as washing, life in the village.” Dance recreates lived experience so that “people feel like they are there.” Because the emotional impact of COBA’s performances breaks down barriers between dancers and audience members, “you are not just a spectator.” Instead, the power of creative movement encourages audience members to think critically about the cultural traditions of Africa and the African diaspora. As Nicole points out, this is central to COBA’s mission to highlight and celebrate history.

Even offstage it is clear that COBA is “more than dance.” Speaking with Nicole and Dammecia I can feel the passion of this talented group of artists. The boxes and drums that fill the studio are tangible evidence of COBA’s vision of bringing  the past and the present together through the lived experience of dance. With a long history of working with other organizations and connecting with diverse audiences, COBA is well positioned to take full advantage of its new space in the heart of Regent Park.

Emily Macrae is the Neighbourhood Arts Network 2012 Summer Intern

Spotlight on St. James Town

This past April, Toronto Arts Foundation and the Neighbourhood Arts Network sponsored workshops for artists living in St. James Town. The initiative was part of the Foundation’s Arts Impact Study, a research project to better understand how Toronto residents interact and engage with the arts at a local level.

Art City in St. James Town Mural

Extending from Sherbourne to Parliament and Bloor to Wellesley, St. James Town is a neighbourhood at the heart of Toronto. In the 1950s the area was transformed into Toronto’s first community of high rise apartment buildings. Today, St. James Town is one of the most densely populated areas of Toronto with 19 residential towers in a 32 acre area. In addition to the spatial density of the neighbourhood, St. James Town is also an area of incredible diversity: the 15 000 tenants speak more than 50 languages and are twice as likely as other Toronto residents to have come to Canada within the past five years.  The density and diversity of the area creates unique challenges for people in St. James Town but also offers opportunities for community engaged arts.

Several arts-focused programs have made an ongoing commitment to the neighbourhood. Art City is a not-for-profit organization committed to providing free and accessible, multidisciplinary art programs to the children and youth of St. James Town (check out our previous post on Art City). Similarly, UforChange combines skills development with an exploration of the arts. Working with new Canadian and low-income youth living in and around St. James Town, UforChange uses  arts-based programs to inspire youth and give them the tools to succeed by providing support and resources to pursue higher education, volunteering, job shadowing and/or employment opportunities.

Alejandra Higuera is an artist who has lived in the area for almost five years. She is currently studying film and animation at OCAD, and works primarily in the west end. Despite the range of programs for children and youth she finds it difficult to connect with other adult artists in St. James Town:  “There are a lot of art programs available here for youth, but nothing for adults. There’s tons of potential for community projects though…there’s such a rich history here, and so many different stories to be told.”

Community Café is one example of a meeting place for artists and other residents of St. James Town.  This project started in the summer of 2011, when local residents and organizations began working toward a vision of forming a community-based social enterprise to promote social inclusion and food security in the neighbourhood. Community feasts are organized every couple of months and usually include an arts component, from performance to art classes. Miguel Camacho is an artist and NAN member who contributed to a recent event.

Community Matters is also working to create arts opportunities for adults through their Artists of St. James Town Initiative, run by local resident and artist Neudis Abreu. The St. James Town Banner Project invited residents to submit their artwork and 25 entries were chosen by a panel of local artists. They are displayed as banners attached to lampposts along Rose Avenue.

Lisa Simpson’s Banner on display in St. James Town

Banner creator Lisa Simpson is a graphic designer and painter living in the area. As a graduate of UforChange and volunteer at Art City in St. James Town she is aware of the connection between art and community development. “St. James Town needs to be upgraded: people deserve better than the current conditions. It needs more colour, it needs to feel safer…Arts events and projects would help with that, something to bring us together and showcase everything we have to be proud of.” Local artist and Banner Project judge, Iftikhar Ahmed, confirms the potential of creativity in St. James Town: “Art links us as a community, and adds colour and warmth to the neighbourhood.”

In addition to several community-engaged arts organizations, St. James Town is also home to many individual artists. Learn more about how NAN members are active in their community as winners of the Community Matters Banner Contest and as artists in a variety of disciplines.

Raj Sandesh recently emigrated from India where she worked as an Ayurvedic doctor. Now living in St. James Town, she pursues her passion for art while raising her children. Art is central to Raj’s impression of her community. “When I first moved to St. James Town, I saw a wall sketch of a dog right off of Wellesley towards the Food Basics. I just loved it.” The neighbourhood continues to contribute to her artistic practice. “I like finding different combinations within my drawings, find inspiration here (in Toronto).” Although Raj says that “I don’t have many friends who have the same interest,” she recognizes that community connections can enrich her work as an artist. “I would like to see more art classes and shows take place in the library and community centres. I would also like to have a chance to show my own artwork somewhere in the city.” Raj participated in the St. James Town Banner Project.

Paul Byron’s Banner Design

Paul Byron is an emerging artist, educator and writer whose large scale paintings straddle the line of representation and abstraction. He submitted the winning entry in the St. James Town Banner Project. He is originally from Hamilton and has been living in St. James Town for the past three years. The diversity of St. James Town intersects with Paul’s interests as an artist. “I am very interested in the diversity in this building. I am very interested in language. It is really great when you can engage with all of the cultural, linguistics and different kinds of things going on…I think it has had a lot to do with my interest in presenting a more complex and specific narrative moving away from traditional portraits.” However, Paul also feels isolated as an artist in St. James Town. “I know fewer people here and there is more of an anonymous feeling. It is difficult to make acquaintances. I have a circle of associates who are active in the artistic and academic community in Hamilton.” Even without the kind of network that he was familiar with in Hamilton, Paul is interested in connecting with arts organizations and contributing to art programs in the neighbourhood. “I have been involved with the Cabbagetown Art Community Centre. I will give a workshop here or teach a class at the library…these kinds of things. There should be more art classes. I don’t even know if there are places in the neighbourhood where this service is available. I was even speaking with the people at Community Matters about workshops or even volunteering time.”

Binod Dhungana, Musician and NAN Member

Binod Dhungana is a singer in the Eastern classical music tradition who participates in a Nepalese community in St. James Town. The active Nepalese music community influenced Binod’s decision to move to the area. He explains: “We get together quite often and have cultural events every two months. There are three or four groups and they perform a variety of songs and dancing…The group was actually one of the main reasons why I moved over here. I knew most of the people from back home in Nepal. There are not a lot of Nepalese people in Mississauga.” Binod’s activities as an artist build on his training in Eastern classical music however he is generally optimistic about the arts in St. James Town. Discussing his dreams and hopes for the neighbourhood he says: “There is such a diverse community and everyone can come together for these community events.”

Banner Design by Iftikhar Ahmed, one of the judges of the St. James Town Banner Project

Iftikhar Ahmed is an established artist who is passionate about making a name for himself in the Toronto arts community. He has been practicing mixed media, collage and painting for over thirty years. Iftikhar finds that the gallery system in Toronto is limited. “There are so many artists, including myself, who are underrepresented. I just think it’s a shame that the AGO is not representing the culture within its city. Artists need freedom to create and this is impossible if the system is not supporting them.” However he is encouraged by community projects and participated in a show at the nearby Strong Communities Gathering Place.  “They really take an initiative to exhibit some local artists, which is great. It’s a small gallery in the Daniels Learning Centre.” Moreover, Iftikhar thinks that the arts play a positive role in St. James Town. “I have seen many murals on the wall. I think that there is a lot of art happening in the area. We just have to search a little bit harder than in other places. This area is very suitable for me and it would be great to do something for the community.” Iftikhar was one of the judges of the St. James Town Banner Project.

Laya Mainali’s Banner Design

Laya Mainali is an established artist who recently emigrated from Nepal. Laya has an MFA and Ph.D in sculpture and has been teaching sculpture at fine arts colleges for 25 years. He has made more than 24 portraits and busts of distinguished persons and has exhibited his paintings and sculptures around the world. Laya won fourth place in the St. James Town Banner Project. Laya’s banner shows his sculpture “Internal Peace.” Laya hopes that this image will encourage people to find peace inside themselves.

 The Arts Impact Study is a project of the Toronto Arts Foundation, in partnership with Art Starts, OCADU and York University. Funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Arts Impact Study researches how arts are created and enjoyed in neighbourhood settings. The study is part of TAF’s Creative City: Block by Block Program designed to advocate for the arts and to support and foster collaboration between artists, community organizations and local residents.

Written by Amy Goudge and Emily Macrae

Emily Macrae is the Neighbourhood Arts Network 2012 Summer Intern.

How and Why It Is: Arts-Based Research in Community Engaged Public Visual Art

CTCHC Community Mosaic Project is a partnership between Red Dress Productions and Central Toronto Community Health Centres.

Image: Four Directions Turtle

In community-engaged art contexts, we’re often asked: How do community consultations connect with the design? What is the relationship between you (the artists), contributors, and communities?

The answer – or, more accurately, the answers – are layered and nuanced. This narrative attempts to retrace and distill the collaborative process that we call “arts-based research”, or alternately, community consultation (of which arts-based research is the major component, and the foundation of our work in and with communities).

The backstory: In February 2011, Red Dress Productions was approached by CTCHC to partner on the CTCHC Community Mosaic Project. We spent the next year fundraising, imagining, and planning the project. In January 2012, we began.

Image: Research Workshop

Contribution stations with images and project information, along with flipcharts and markers and a suggestion box were installed in the centre’s lobby and the primary care area on 2nd floor to welcome ideas. Extensive promotion and outreach was done both within the health centre itself, and beyond through grassroots networks and with community partners[1].

We met with more than 150[2]  project contributors to: inquire and listen; brainstorm ideas, themes, and motif; and experiment with visual expressions using accessible approaches to art making. We facilitated a total of 12 community consultations with program participants, community members, staff and board members at Central Toronto Community Health Centres – home of Queen West Community Health Centre and Shout Clinic.

Pastel City

At each consultation, we assume little or no prior knowledge of the project, who we are, or our approach to community art. We begin at the beginning: introductions and welcomes, a review of the project’s path and development process, where we are in the project at the time of the consultation, what we’ve heard from contributors at previous consultations, and where we were going.

Food, drink, art materials, and project handbills were laid out, and a projection system was set up. Transit tokens were made available to increase access, and, at two consultations, we had the support of an Anishinabe Elder, and a Cantonese and Mandarin interpreter. We worked hard to thread the voices of contributors from previous consultations.  On a practical level, we did this by recording discussion points and ideas (without personal identifiers), and photographing contributor-generated artwork at each consultation, which we shared these ideas and images at subsequent consultations.

Most of the consultations took place in specific programs at the centre including Four Winds, TRIP, Sketch, the Perinatal Program, Primary Care, an all staff meeting, and a Harm Reduction Open House. We also held three public consultations, which were open to anyone interested in being a part of the project.  Each consultation was designed to meet the needs of contributors, with the time amount of time available (from one to three hours), depending upon the program. We brainstormed in large and small groups, and had many one-to-one conversations. We made art with a range of materials including oil pastel, foam plate “carving” and printing, and collage.


Essentially, we invited contributors to move from spoken language into visual language. Many contributors said, “I’m not an artist,” or “I can’t draw.” We offered materials and encouragement: Try experimenting with colour, with shapes. If you move your pastel across the sheet, something will show up. We returned to our anchor questions: If there was an artwork on the CTCHC building that welcomed you and the communities you’re a part of, what might it be? What creates healthy communities? What does this look like?

 We also talked about the wall that the artwork would ultimately live on (at the front entrance of the building on Bathurst Street), and discussed public space, and other site-specific environmental and architectural elements. At the end of each consultation, we reviewed our findings from this participatory arts-based research – notes, brainstorm maps, sketches, prints, and collages – and together, we identified key words or phrases, themes, and visual motif.

Survivor Drawing

The great volume of material produced through the consultation process – more than 200 small solo and multiple artworks, 20 pages of notes, and 15 flipchart brainstorm maps  – draws clear lines between the social determinants of health including access to safe and affordable housing, nutritious food, non-judgmental health care, and community engagement. Certain images and motif repeated; however, accompanying stories and perspectives carried distinct and often multiple meanings.

Let’s look at water, as one example. Water was drawn as lake, river, stream, and ocean. Water was also suggested by canoes, kayaks, and boats; sea and freshwater birds, beavers, fish, turtles, and Turtle Island itself. There were stories of selkies, merfolk, water spirits and sprites; deep water, still waters, and still waters running deep.

Magazine collage

Water was cited as the foundation of all life: 75% of our planet composition is water, as is true for most plant and animal life. Direct connections were drawn between water, nutrition and sustenance, and environmental health and justice. Many contributors associated water to birth, motherhood, and parenthood. Some spoke of rushing waters carrying the voices of ancestors. Concerns were voiced for rising waters, diminishing shorelines, and the impact on Indigenous peoples. Others spoke of migrations across oceans to Canada.

As lead visual artist, it’s my job to produce a design that reflects contributors and the communities that intersect at the centre, and that threads visual motif, themes, stories, and nuances therein. The design must also be technically and artistically achievable in an open and inclusive studio environment, and have an aesthetic relationship to the neighbourhood – in this case, the Queen West neighbourhood. So, how is this done?

First, I don’t consider myself to be external to a process; I’m not a third party observer who translates. We exchange ideas and goodwill; the learning and sharing is mutual. I reviewed and reflected on all the ideas and notes and images in their totality – all voices, whether a community member contributed to one or three consultations. I looked for related elements, echoes, and threads. I listened closely to the quietest voices, and attributed value to those voices. I recognized differences in perspectives and lived experience. This recognition speaks to our mission as community artists: To produce original artwork that strives for innovation, technical excellence, and that elicits dialogue and creative exchange across difference.

I looked for related elements, echoes, and threads. I listened closely to the quietest voices, and attributed value to those voices. I recognized differences in perspectives and lived experience. This recognition speaks to our mission as community artists: To produce original artwork that strives for innovation, technical excellence, and that elicits dialogue and creative exchange across difference.

Inspired by contributors, I also conducted more text-based research on subjects including native and drought tolerant flowers and shrubs; tree physiology; Mississauga First Nations unceded territories (upon which Greater Toronto is built); the Law of Conservation of Energy; sky lanterns (also known as Chinese lanterns); Atlantic and Pacific salmon; migratory birds in the City of Toronto; and archival footage of Queen Street West from Trinity-Bellwoods Park to Augusta.

Mosaic: Writer

CTCHC Community Mosaic, 2012, detail

Finally, I walked about the Queen West neighbourhood, and took many photographs. This field-research was inspired by a young self-identified homeless contributor who said: “Look up. Look down. A lot of people forget to look at their environment. A lot of people don’t want to see me.” I allowed this contributor’s voice to guide me:  to enable me to see more, and differently. I saw: cranes and condominium towers; grasses and Eastern Red Columbine growing out of concrete; shoes strung on hydro lines; discarded coffee cups, feathers, and cigarette butts; sewer grates and birds nests; weathered paint, vacant storefronts, and many new home décor boutiques; and a lot of graf art and tagging.

Closeup of Dog

CTCHC Community Mosaic, 2012, detail

Through the consultation process, contributors shepherd Red Dress Productions’ artistic leadership team, and I steward the progression of this arts-based research into a cohesive design – one that makes room for multiplicities, difference, and echoes.

We presented my first-draft design to 60+ contributors at our final public consultation on April 4, 2012. We invited feedback, which was offered and incorporated into the final design. Shortly thereafter, the studio was opened.


CTCHC Community Mosaic, 2012, detail

Consultation, of which arts-based research is the anchor element, is a collaborative dynamic process. It’s not a linear here to there event. It’s cumulative and circular. It loops, doubles back, and stretches forward to make room for more of us.

It is cultural democracy at work. It is how we make real our belief that all people should have opportunities, access, and tools for shaping their neighbourhoods and communities.

– Anna Camilleri

Lead Visual Artist for CTCHC Community Mosaic Project

Red Dress Productions, Artistic Co-Director


More than 350 community members contributed to the creation of the CTCHC Community Mosaic Project, which was unveiled on Wednesday June 20, 2012.

The CTCHC Community Mosaic Project has been made possible through the support of the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council, and the City of Toronto: Public Realm, Transportation Services, and the TD Bank Group.

(Queen West Community Health Centre and Shout Clinic) mission is to act as a resource to improve the health and quality of life of the people and communities we serve. CTCHC achieves this through health promotion, harm reduction, education, community outreach, engagement, development and advocacy, as well as through the provision of innovative primary health care, counselling, support and dental services.

To find out more about CTCHC (168 Bathurst, south of Queen St. West), visit or call 416-703-8482

RED DRESS PRODUCTIONS (RDP) is a Toronto-based, not-for-profit, professional arts company that creates and disseminates interdisciplinary art and performance projects and works with/in communities on community-engaged public artworks. Since 2005, RDP has: directly engaged 2000+ contributors in the conceptual development and building of 7 community engaged public artwork projects; produced 5 original interdisciplinary stage performances; toured to more than 8 urban and rural Canadian communities; and created 17 paid apprenticeship positions for youth under the age of 25.

To find out more about Red Dress Productions, visit us online at

All images are courtesy of Red Dress Productions and project photographer Katie Yealland.

[1] Community partners include: Sketch, Meeting Place Drop-in (St Christopher House), Scadding Court Community Centre, YMCA House Residence, Youthlink, Supporting Our Youth (Sherbourne Health Centre), and Bleecker Street Co-operative Homes

[2] The 150 contributors cited here are specific to the consultation phase, which informs the conceptual development of the artwork.

Nomanzland on the Mainstage: June 15-17

 From June 15 to 17, Young People’s Theatre presents Nomanzland: Known to Police.

In Known to Police, resident’s from Toronto’s most notorious intersection find themselves backed into a dystopian corner by ‘the Man’. Armed with art, a conscience and the echoes of the Arab Spring, they must decide whether to run, hide, stand their ground, or come out fighting. Known to Police is a celebration of the resilience, vibrancy and swag of a community that often finds itself on the wrong side of society’s ‘you are either with us or against us’ speech.

Nomanzland, a performing arts program that brings together youth from different artistic backgrounds, encourages the use of poetry, dance and theatre to address issues that affect today’s youth. Most of all, Nomanzland hopes to provide an opportunity for reclamation – of both personal voice, and local space.

To learn more about Nomanzland, check out the NAN video profile.

Nomanzland and the West Side Arts Hub

Free Info Sessions for St. James Town Artists

Free Info Sessions for artists of St. James Town


Meet other artists from St. Jamestown, learn how to create an artist profile, and join a city-wide arts network for free.

Attend one of these three information session and learn how to promote your work, and share how being creative has an impact on your life. RSVP by visiting the community matters office or email