Be a part of Making Space for Culture!


City of Toronto Cultural Services launches another round of ward consultations starting October 4 and running throughout the month.  What kind of space does your neighbourhood need to make art, music, dance? To film, play, practice and perform? We’re coming to your neighbourhood to hear your thoughts. We want to know what’s needed, who needs it, and how we might work together to help make space for culture in your community.

More information regarding the consultation schedules can be found here, and the complete schedule is attached.  We encourage you to attend a consultation in your ward, and be sure to pass it through your networks!

Have your voice heard by taking our survey!

Making Space for Culture is a major recommendation of the Creative Capital Gains report, unanimously adopted by Toronto City Council in May 2011. Finding, building, and sustaining cultural space requires partners from all sectors, private, non-profit, and government. In order to make wise, long-term plans, Toronto Cultural Services has embarked on a ward-by-ward consultation and planning process to determine local priorities.

Questions? Contact or 416-392-7367


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.

Photography and Emancipatory Communication

This article is an excerpt from a paper presented at the Canadian Communication Association’s 2012 conference on Thursday, May 31. I was part of a panel called Body and Affect in Visual Communication. Though there were quite some gaps between the substance of our presentations, it was still a great pleasure to present alongside Sara Martel, Tess Jewell, and Gary McCarron.

“….When I began my research, my interest was in community arts practices that deployed camera-based practices: so rather than, say, community theatre or community murals, I was interested in sites that employed community video or photography. However, as I quickly came to find out, camera-based practices are rarely found in isolation, but rather co-exist with those built upon community theatre, community media, and other interdisciplinary, multimodal, and grassroots traditions. There’s an important specificity to photorealistic, camera-based practices in community arts that I will only be able to touch on obliquely here; so, for the purposes of this paper, let me just suggest that they are an important engagement tool and media production method comparable to others in the field.

Kris and Elinor shooting houses of dreams and memory

Kris and Elinor shooting houses of dreams and memory; image courtesy of MABELLEarts

In what follows, I’ll try to weave descriptions of some of these organizations and practices into the arguments I’ve proposed: first, that community arts helps shift the ground upon which critical social action might occur, and secondly that community arts helps expand the repertoire of forms and gestures those actions might take.

The practices and organizations with which I’ve been involved exist in a variety of situated and transitory spaces. For example, MABELLEarts, which is an organization working with and physically based in the high-density, low-income Toronto Community Housing complex called Mabelle Park in an otherwise affluent Central Etobicoke. Over the past four years, MABELLEarts has put on recurring, registration-based workshops, as well as weekly drop-in sessions. It has also put on less fixed events – whether temporally, such as seasonal events coinciding with Ramadan or with winter – or spatially, such as performances and parades that occupy park space or that transform live lanes of traffic into spaces of celebration. It has documented many of these interventions in photos and video, and has used camera-based methods to generate a variety of more pictorial, less documentary material for these and other events.
Making Room – an organization working with members of and neighbours living near the Parkdale Activity and Recreation Centre in the heart of that Toronto community – also hosts weekly drop-in sessions. Over it’s four year history, Making Room has tried to find ways to engage residents and guests with Parkdale: with its histories, its stigmas, and its proximity to other, perhaps for some, more desirable spaces, such as the lake shore. It has used cameras and photorealistic imagery in ways similar to MABELLEarts: for both documentary and for more creative, pictorial purposes.

These and other practices are marked by a number of spatial interventions: for one, participants are invited to be in familiar places at unfamiliar times; secondly, they are invited to be in unfamiliar places proximate to those more familiar at a variety of times; and thirdly, they are invited to navigate spaces, both familiar and unfamiliar, in novel and non-habitual ways. As I have suggested, camera-based practices are deployed, both by facilitators and by participants, in all kinds of ways and at various moments during these interventions.

Streets of dreams and memory

Streets of dreams and memory; image courtesy of MABELLEarts

Some examples: in the first case, as an intervention into being in familiar places at unfamiliar times, MABELLEarts crafted pinhole cameras out of cardboard, tape, and aluminum cans with some residents. Given the unique optical characteristics these cameras possess and long exposure time they demand, pinhole images are generally unpredictable and difficult to envision. Two afternoons with these cameras in late January resulted in impromptu photoshoots at units where people let us borrow their balconies, as well as in areas of the park and apartment grounds that participants thought “might look good as a pinhole photo.” As bad weather took hold on the second day, the pinhole plan had to be scrapped for lack of light, and a back-up plan of timelapse videos shot with digital cameras.

Greg working on time lapse video; image courtesy of MABELLEarts

Greg working on time lapse video; image courtesy of MABELLEarts

In the third case, navigating spaces in novel ways, Making Room incorporates meditation into their weekly sessions. Artistic Director Michael Burtt is careful to note that this is not merely a cerebral activity. Thus, the opening meditation activity, what he calls a 10-20 minute “sit,” is meant to heighten a participant’s awareness of their bodily presence within the everyday, within the material goings-on of their community, warts and all, rather than to claim a separation from it. This kind of holistic activity acknowledges rather than supresses the complexity of a community, one historically portrayed as at-risk instead of in greater need of support and resources. The meditation also fosters a kind of open awareness, one that encourages playful encounters with the Parkdale neighbourhood, and has been integral to a process that has resulted in a portfolio of projects and performances that includes large-scale still photographic portraits wheat-pasted onto local buildings, as well as mixed-media sculptures selectively developed and installed adjacent to conventional social service agencies, and the launch of a boat into Lake Ontario – designed and built in-house, led as much by skilled boat-builders as by active residents. The launch is scheduled for mid-June.
The examples described, in short, shift the grounds whereby interpersonal communication can occur, both by opening spaces and by reconfiguring relations within and across existing and familiar spaces. Further, by engaging with space in asystematic and non-habitual ways – for example, by meditating as a group or by being in a public park legitimately after dark – through such engagements, both directly with the space and with one another in such spaces, distinct conversations occurred. I wouldn’t claim that camera-based practices “made” these events any more than other media and non-media practices did or would have, but they certainly enriched the way such interventions unfolded, and contributed to the complexity of discursive and non-discursive communication that occurred in such sites.

A number of the practices I just described also relate to my second argument – namely, that community arts functions to expand repertoires of social action, and possibly critical social action. As I see it, this happens in several distinct but not necessarily discrete ways: first, by augmenting personal capacities for acting; secondly, by collectivizing social action; and thirdly by providing spaces in which collaborative practice is encouraged and normalized.
In terms of personal growth, community arts encourages a whole host of individualized skill development. Some practices encourage fine arts or performing arts or media arts production skills, others develop self-help or entrepreneurial skills, still others experience in pedagogical facilitation, anti-oppression teaching, and so on. Although these outcomes are seldom the product of an explicit pedagogy, community arts nevertheless tends to foster various arts and crafts, popular education or social justice skills for which little systematic training is otherwise elsewhere available.
Michael Burtt from Making Room, for example, is aware of his participants’ comfort and seeming expertise in welcoming and hosting new participants to their sessions. The same is true of Phyllis Novak – the Artistic Director of Sketch, a multi-purpose studio located in a space adjacent to Parkdale near Queen West, and geared toward at-risk and street-involved youth. Novak claims her organization is making explicit attempts to enact literature on “the art of hosting” into its mandate and practice, particularly in the peer-leadership and mentorship work that they support. Regardless of the depth to which such training occurs, the effect is that participants are invited to engage in organizational activities and processes – as facilitators or decision-makers, for example – and to also acquire the skills demanded by these roles.

This kind of organizational model in particular – a model which values leadership skills development amongst participants – relates to the second aspect of community arts’ contributions to expanding social and cultural repertoires: namely, the collectivization of social action. Despite the seeming concentration of power embedded within the designation “Artistic Director,” community arts often deploy fluid organizational hierarchies that decenter the authority of its Artistic Directors. Of the examples I mentioned, for example, youth are often invited to shoulder organizational responsibility as peer leaders. Similarly, senior citizens are invited to share accumulated wisdom, both with younger generations and with peers from distinct cultures. In my experience at least, Artistic Directors serve less to authorize, control, and legitimize such practice – how could they and still have a community with which they work? Rather, Artistic Directors often shape and cultivate practices, acting to redistribute rather than devolve responsibility and control onto participants.

Indeed, in these and other cases, this is a kind of democratization of practice that amounts to more than simply a way for communities to “buy-in” to what community arts claims to offer. It is a direct rather than a representational democracy of sorts: altering the nature of what community arts can accomplish by attempting to incorporate community-derived beliefs and values into the aesthetic and discursive systems within which community arts practitioners operate. It is to this politicizing action that I earlier referred when speaking of the potential contribution community arts may make to understandings of emancipatory and decolonizing communication….”

Comments on this paper, as well as criticism, are welcome. Some rights reserved: cc by-nc-sa 2012 Kris Erickson. To check out the full text of this article, visit the thinking practice blog about ‘photography, learning, creativity, and other matters’. Kris Erickson can be reached at

To learn more about MABELLEarts, visit

To learn more about Making Room, check out

Skills Development for Malvern Youth Artists

Toronto Arts Foundation is sponsoring an information session for youth artists living in Malvern as 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. Youth attending will have an opportunity to participate in TAF’s Arts Impact Study.

How to Build a Career in the Arts will be held on March 22nd from 4:00 to 6:00p.m. at Blessed Mother Teresa Secondary School 40 Sewells Rd, Room 229


How to Build a Career in the Arts is for youth artists interested in a career in visual arts, film, or the music industry. The two-hour, free session will explore:
-How to promote yourself
-How to get your work shown
-How to get a gig
-How to meet the people you need to meet
-How being creative makes an impact on your life

Session resource persons are:

Photo © John Sanchez Photography, Domanique Grant

Dominique Grant – dynamic artist, performer, dancer, and actor who has spent more than a third of her life on stage. She has performed with KRS-ONE, and MICHEE MEE, and opened for artists including EMMANUAL JAL and ANDREENA MILL. As a youth advocate she speaks out for affordable housing through her work with the Co-operative Housing Federation of Toronto.




Photo © Jessica Thompson

Jessica Thompson is a Canadian new media artist whose work explores sound and participatory artworks, and a commercial graphic designer. She holds a BFA in Visual Art from York University in Toronto and an MFA in Emerging Practices from SUNY at Buffalo. Her work has been shown in exhibitions and festivals in Canada, United States and Europe. Her projects have appeared in publications such as Canadian Art, c Magazine, Acoustic Territories, and numerous art and technology blogs.



Space is limited. Those wishing to attend should email: by March 21st.

Toronto Arts Foundation exists to provide the creative opportunity for donors to support the arts in Toronto. TAF believes that a great city demands great art, and by supporting, celebrating, financing and advocating for Toronto’s local artists, we’re improving the quality of life of all Torontonians. Although separate entities, the Toronto Arts Council and Toronto Arts Foundation benefit by being run as sister organizations, ensuring close contact with the arts sector in Toronto and an ongoing awareness of
activities and needs throughout the community. For more information on the work of the Toronto Arts Foundation, please visit .

Media Contact:
Margo Charlton
Research Officer
416-392-6802 x 201

EMERGENCE: Call for Volunteers

CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS to help the Neighbourhood Arts Network on

Friday February 24 at Harbourfront Centre

EmergenceBe a part of Emergence, Neighbourhood Arts Network’s first Symposium on Community Arts Practice!  Join us for the day and enjoy the opportunity to participate in Panel Discussions or Networking Sessions and meet artists and cultural workers from across Toronto.

Greeters: Greeters will help answer questions and guide symposium guests to their session rooms.

Registration: Registration volunteers will work at the registration table for half a day, and spend the other part of the day enjoying the panels and networking sessions.

If you decide to spend the full day with us, you will also have a chance to have lunch with guests from Toronto’s vibrant arts community.

Morning Shift

Registration Table: 7:45am – 12pm,

Greeters:  10am – 12pm


Afternoon Shift

Registration area: 12pm – 5pm

Greeters:  2pm – 4pm

If you would like to volunteer, please contact

or call 416.392.6802 x212 before February 1st