Toronto: A Vibrant City of Artists and Social Change-Makers
Earlier this year PYE returned to Toronto for the first time in a long while to lead a Creative Facilitation program. We were inspired by the strong social change movement that we found there and by the deep commitment of the facilitators and artists we met. As we prepare to return for our second round of trainings this year with a CF1 on October 10-11 and a CF2 on October 16-17, we decided to find out more about the culture of the city and the challenges and benefits faced by the people who work there. We spoke to Ella Cooper, lead trainer for PYE and an experienced community organizer.
“Toronto is one of those cities that has a lot of hidden magic and opportunities”, says Ella. “There’s strong support for the arts here and there is continuous energy around new ideas that are materializing.”
Toronto is Ella’s adopted home and her work often takes her to other parts of the country and world, but as a social artist she finds herself repeatedly drawn back. “I live here because of the vibrancy of the artist community and because of the dedication that people show to their work. Toronto is not as good looking as places like Vancouver and Montreal, but when it comes to its people there is a real energy and connection.”
As with many social artists in Toronto, Ella works across a range of disciplines including photography, emerging dance and documentary filmmaking. She is also a committed community consultant, educator and creative facilitator with a Masters of Arts Education and extensive training in working with groups.
“Toronto is such a big city so inevitably not everyone gets to meet each other.” Ella is currently working as the Senior Coordinator of the Neighborhood Arts Network. “We originated as a connector so that people would have a better sense of the potential for partnerships. I think that’s the best way to move forward, particularly in a city where there is this much going on. A lot of organizations might be catalysts for action and they might have amazing campaigns that they are working on but they need to connect with artists and community groups to make that happen. Working in a silo is just impractical in this day and age.”
Gwyn Wansbrough, Managing Director of PYE, has been overseeing the return to Toronto, her native city. “There is a vibrant youth empowerment sector in Toronto that is already tuned into the power of art for social change,” she says. “Creative Facilitation is an opportunity to bring the sector together, deepen our practices and connections and strengthen our collective voice for what we call ‘transformative’ youth work – programs that fundamentally shift a young person’s notion of who they are and what they are capable of in this world.”
“There is definitely an energy around this field of work at the moment” agrees Ella. “There are so many people dedicated to arts for social change in Toronto and they are doing incredible things. Across the city we are seeing people who are really dedicated to their communities and cities and they are using the arts in all its forms to empower and celebrate the diverse voices that exist here. That is particularly exciting in Toronto because we have such a multicultural city.”
For Ella, PYE’s return to Toronto is a welcome addition to the vibrant social art landscape. “The techniques I’ve learned through the PYE Creative Facilitation training have helped me to deepen my impact with youth and adults in a whole variety of settings. One thing that’s great about this model is that it gives you the freedom to make the techniques your own. You can bring your own style of facilitation to the work but the techniques will allow you to deepen your impact.”
“I recently helped to organize a community arts jam which was a gathering of community artists, creative facilitators and social change people. We ran a brief retreat and we used the techniques from the Creative Community Model. It helped us to create a beautiful container. I’m also working on a project called Body Land Identity which celebrates women of color across the country. I ask women to think about how they want to be seen and celebrated in the world. I find that I really need to draw on my Creative Facilitation skills to hold the space and allow people to feel safe and free to be creative. It’s a really lovely experience and it allows people to go on a journey of deep self-exploration.”
If you’re based in Toronto and are interested in getting more involved in the social arts scene, Ella recommends the following resources:
PYE training (of course) – we are now running regular CF trainings in Toronto. Visit our upcoming training page for details and if you don’t see any dates listed, feel free to contact us to find out when we will be returning.
Neighborhood Arts Network – find out about the latest events and funding and work opportunities through this network over 1,000 artists, art organizations, cultural workers and community agencies.
WorkInCulture.ca – support and opportunities for people who work in the culture sector
Frontline Partners with Youth Network – supporting the energy, interests and passions of frontline youth workers
Jumblies Theater – bringing art to the world by making art in everyday and unexpected places. They run a Creative Facilitator training program.
Learning Through the Arts – offering professional trainings for artist educators
Community Arts Practice – a York University course on using the arts to work with communities
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Sagesse Graham is a videographer and animator who uses aspects of the Creative Community Model in her work with youth.