Good morning, my name is Teresa. Today in celebration of the first annual art exhibition created for the community, I’m offering market visitors a glimpse of some of the creative activity at the barns that you may pass-by without noticing.
(brief history of Artscape projects in Toronto, see Interview with Pru Robey)
Pru Robey, head of the creative placemaking at Artscape says that we, the people who live in the barns neighborhood, are the envy of the entire city.
She points out that it was the debate at the outset of the barn’s history that gave community members a sense of ownership. Currently, community involvement in Artscape Wychwood Barns is channeled through Wychwood Barns Community Association (WBCA). This volunteer group promotes activities that take place here through its website listings and market information table. As well, they organize festive events in partnership with Artscape staff to attract the community here.
The City of Toronto owns this physical complex but Artscape is the building’s landlord/superintendent and animator. The organization pays for the barns’ operational costs through space rental. WBCA, the community organization, rents the Peter MacKendrick Community Gallery from Artscape but it does not often use it for such public outreach opportunities as the current exhibition because it needs to recover enough money through gallery rental to pay its own rent to Artscape.
“Community (Love) Creates Change” is WBCA’s first attempt to start a public conversation through art. Two curators put out a broad call for artists’ to respond to the theme of how art can forward community change. The results are on view this weekend and judging from the capacity crowd at the opening it has been a success.
An ongoing challenge of the barns is how artists can get closer to their audience and how visitors can discover the creative activity here. The exhibition on view this weekend suggests some answers and important principles. It demonstrates the spirit of open-ness, the collaborative practices and the sensitivity to place essential for artists to create meaningful work for a place like this. It also reveals the range of media and strategies—performance, poetry, bookworks, video and painting—that are not commonly seen in commercial shows and yet are important for community oriented art.
How is the barns is a model of creative placemaking? Does it offer its stakeholders including the surrounding community the benefits that were originally envisioned? Artscape, five years after opening this as a “hub”, intends to revisit the initial vision asking in-put on of how it can be improved.
What role do resident artists play in making this a cultural facility for the community? How does The Stop figure into the vision of the barns as a place of cultural expression and exchange? We will peek-in on two residents in their studios; pass by The Stop’s greenhouse and finish with a quick introduction to the current exhibition at the barn’s community gallery that proposes some answers to the question.
I would like to introduce Bernadette Peets she is a recent addition to Artscape Wychwood Barns as a studio tenant. Over ten years ago, she helped to organize the community in support of maintaining the Barns and converting them into this form. Bernadette, I know through our conversations that you’ve been thinking about how to work as an artist in the Barns and also that you are in touch with the community’s interest in having this as a place to connect with culture.
Yes, it’s a two-fold issue. It’s a very private place to work and during the week there’s nobody really walking through here; it’s quiet and I usually have my door open unless I really don’t want to be disturbed
Are there other tenants here beside you?
You see that’s a good question. There are a lot of tenants but everybody is kind of quiet, which is fine. It’s a work space yet part of what interested and intrigued me when I came here was the opportunity to have more of a dialogue with the public. Like that woman who just came in here with her child. The child was at the door and saw some paint and colours and he wanted to come in. But people feel awkward about crossing the threshold. I try to be welcoming. In general, I think there’s an un-met potential for interface between the public and artist here. The exhibition that’s just opened at the gallery stresses the importance of that interface.
Teresa’s been working with them to make some connection between the market space and what happens in the studios. I enjoy, on occasion, opening the studio door to let people see me “at work” during the market. The goal is to encourage people to ask questions so that the artist doesn’t seem like some foreign entity to them.
What about this large public space, used by the farmers’ market what happens there?
Artscape uses it for something called the Art Market occasionally. It’s kiosks with artists and crafts people selling their wares. It gets rented for events, some are private others are open to the public.
There was recently a concert there.
Yes, music in the barns is a studio tenant that offers music classes, classical music concerts. It recently presented, in partnership with other organizations, a new music performance that incorporated film projection.
Is this something that you’re wrestling with now—how you engage the public and how things should merge and move forward?
I just think if there was more busyness, more people stopping by, a café where they could linger… during the market, when traffic peaks, people come, they grab their vegetables and then they run home. And, that’s OK but there’s other stuff going on here. There’s a theatre group, an environment group …and there are things happening and people working away but it’s not apparent.
It should be apparent. So what do we do? Do we put big signs outside our studios—“I am an artist. Here are my open hours.” There’s got to be a way to engage. And one of the ways is the gallery. The gallery at this point doesn’t function that way. To date it’s been more or less a commercial entity.
Is that where you exhibit your work?
I don’t; but I could. In fact, anyone could if they pay for the venue. But right now there’s a show that was curated, in other words, the work was carefully selected to frame ideas that reach-out to the public. Of course, as an artist you have to sell stuff but the other part of art is having a dialogue. That’s the part a gallery plays— the work is presented in a way that poses question relevant to the public and the moment. I do sell my work occasionally but I also have my own business which pays the rent. Artists make art because they want people to see it and they want dialogue and input.
Our next visit is to Accents studio.
Oh Wow! Is this a bookstore?
This is Abubacar Leon Fofana, but he’s known as Abu.
Hi, welcome to Accents, this is my business partner with whom I teach at York University. She and I opened a bookstore three years ago at Eglinton and Dufferin area. We closed that location recently and now are operating it as an online bookstore. This is a studio space, we only sell our publications at the market. During the week the books are on display. They represent the knowledge and art that we want to talk about at Accents.
So what do you use this space for the rest of the week?
We offer different services including English classes, Spanish classes, book readings, art exhibitions, book launches, every Sunday at 5 p.m. there are poetry readings and every Saturday we have a book reading here.
We promote local writers. This entire book case is filled with publications by writers living in the neighborhood or in Toronto.
This tour during the market is an initiative that we are doing with Teresa and she, Bernadette and I are exploring different ways we can do projects to promote more visitors to explore the Barns as a cultural place.
And Indigo is not going to try to take you over?
No, but in relation to commercial/community ventures we’ve been doing pop-up shops. We’re doing the fifth one tonight from 5 p.m. to 2 in the morning. We’re celebrating the third anniversary of the bookstore. We’ve invited vendors from Afican Carribean and Latin American communities—so it’s a mini market with food, fashion designers, writers, poets, performers. We’re offering an Afro-Cuban dance workshop, spoken word performances, etc. at a club called Clave at St. Clair near Lansdowne.The event is also a fundraiser for a project in Jamaica.
In terms of my presence at the barns, I am here every day of the week except for Wednesday when the space is used by an artist, Charmaine Lurch, she’s from Jamaica, you can see her work on the walls. I am a writer but my door is always open.
Teresa: Abu has come down from Eglinton and Dufferin where the LRT construction has disrupted the commercial life of the street. He was telling me that spoken word and other work being done by Afro-Canadian writers merges with the “orality” of Caribbean literature. In other words, what we think of as literary work, can really only happen by talking face to face. That’s why Accents bookstore on Eglinton to be a true local “book” store there had to be in sync with oral expression and so be a social hub, a hang-out.
When he designed this studio as a kind of salon for readings and performance, etc, just two months ago, he was dismayed to find that people going through the barns would peer in the door but be fearful of coming in. It could be a problem with the signals given by the building or it could also be, in part, a cultural gap, or it could be that he’s created a new model of cultural space that is unfamiliar. So at the barns Abu is involved in an interesting cross-cultural experiment—I mean cross-cultural not only between Canadian and Afro-Caribbean culture but also between the barns neighbourhood and that of Eglinton and Dufferin. I think of him as a guide to some possible development for the barns because he’s setting out to create an interesting cultural intersection here.
I wanted to also mention that Olivia Chow will be doing a book reading and signing here at Accents next Saturday, February 22nd from 9 a.m. to noon. Please come by.
Our next visit is to The Stop greenhouse.
The Stop presents a post-food bank model that tackles the lack of good food for the socially marginalized. Its other location is in the priority neighborhood of Davenport West. At this location “the Green Barn” includes this greenhouse, the kitchen, the café and sheltered garden beyond. In the adjoining open air section is the Global roots garden, and beyond the dog park is a garden with indigenous plants.
Nick Saul, the visionary of this organization, realized that food hand-outs helped people survive but not thrive or move forward. Through different programs, he and his staff began to use food as a rallying point for community. The programs brought people together in meal preparation and food growing. They promoted healthy eating and offered food as part of celebrations with the end result that clients were sustained not only by food and new eating habits but by feeling connected.
This was the second location of The Stop. It’s a feeder location to Davenport in terms of growing vegetables but also, because of the elegance of the architecturally designed space and how it displays the principles of The Stop it’s where their fundraiser events are held. The Global Roots gardens are important in celebrating the city’s diversity and demonstrating how market gardening and food are carriers of cultural memory. The Café is a drop-in place where they prepare food in creative ways to bring together what the vendors are selling, the season, and the social warmth of the market. What else? There are after-school programs, composting demonstrations…
What is the government support for the Barns?
From what I understand, seventy percent of Artscape operational funding comes from space rental and another twenty percent comes from various levels of government with the balance from private foundations and fundraising. As a broad trend, governments prefer to contribute to project as opposed to organizational operating costs. Funding is very targeted and tied to social and economic impacts. There has been a profusion of festivals, for example, because these are highly marketable events with high potential for sponsorship and targeted audiences.
The result is that barns’ organizational tenants are part of a larger eco-system of non-profits and arts groups competing to survive year-to-year in a harsh funding environment. In recognition of this, Artscape “tests the soil” for its projects through market research on the community in which it is to be introduced. And, as the project is an economic revitalization tool, the benefit is mutual. “Creative placemaking” is about generating energy that in turn brings more investment. The key to its success is how well the project is meaningfully “branded” by connecting how it looks with the relevant cultural meaning and economic vitality of a neighborhood.
My daughter, who is in architecture, said, “Well now that you’ve moved in—there goes the neighbourhood!”
OK, here’s Donovan who works here and he can tell you more.
Hi my name is Donovan and I’m the engagement and education assistant here at The Stop. Everything grown here is food based, we also have herbs and companion plants. All the food grown here goes back to the community in a number of ways. For example we run volunteer programs and workshops to teach people how to grow organically, volunteer take some of what they grow home with them. We start seedlings here and plant them in various community gardens. We’ve started a program called YIMBY, Yes in My Backyard. We pair home owners together with people who don’t have yards. Everything that’s harvested is shared with The Stop.
I’m a resident of Sagatay, a sister organization to Na-Me-Res, a First Nations based men’s residence. A lot of what we harvest here is donated to-Na-Me-Res.There’s a men’s group and workshop every Tuesday that is linked with The Stop. In the coming months we’ll be re-opening our medicine wheel garden at Hillcrest Park. One of our volunteers created a model of the medicine wheel here to show the public. These are the “grandfather stones” that are used in the sweat lodges. ….Inside the medicine wheel each quadrant has plants containing different medicinal properties. Each type of plant symbolizes a natural force and this is combined with others according to how they are planted in the medicine wheel. The garden also marks this as the territory of the Ojibwa or Anishnabe.
Thank you Donovan.
Our last stop is at the barn’s community gallery. There’s an artist talk in 7 minutes.