A Common Table
Final Report to The Propeller Project
We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to The Propeller Project for supporting A Common Table this summer and helping us welcome 1351 people of all ages to community events in the Mabelle and West Mall neighbourhoods. GTAA's generous support was essential to our success in welcoming more than 500 asylum-seekers and refugees who took part in our summer series of free workshops and events. These summer projects offered a range of opportunities for newly arrived individuals and families to build relationships, express themselves and get to know the GTA. This summer's focus on nurturing community leaders of all ages (including an incredible team of twenty-seven youth) offered a unique opportunity for these leaders (themselves more-established newcomers to Canada) to welcome those newly arrived. In this way, community leaders were able to extend the welcome they know first-hand to be so vital to building a new life in Canada. We're thrilled to share the impacts of our summer with you here and hope you know what a difference your support is making to newcomers in Etobicoke!
Iftar Nights and Eid al-Fitr in Mabelle Park
For the past five years, MABELLEarts has been working with community members of all ages and backgrounds to create inter-cultural celebrations that mark the holy month of Ramadan. Each year, residents from a range of cultural backgrounds gather in the Mabelle Park to join their Muslim neighbours as they break their Ramadan fast. This year, as well as four Iftar Nights, we hosted our first-ever Eid-al-Fitr celebration in Mabelle Park. Each night, we welcomed bus-loads of asylum-seekers and refugees from across the GTA, thanks to partnerships with The Together Project, The Arab Community Centre of Toronto, COSTI Immigrant Services, and the The City of Toronto Birkdale Residences. Over five evenings, we welcomed a total of 934 guests, over half of whom were newcomers and asylum-seekers, joining us for festive evenings of musical performances, art-making, fire-side stories and delicious food prepared by the Mabelle Ladies Cooking Circle. The art-making and music featured three community choirs (The Ismaili Muslim Youth Choir, The Jumblies Theatre Ground Floor Choir, and The Making Room Community Arts Choir) and 10 guest artists including: Turkwaz (www.turkwaz.ca), Anahita Dehbonehie, Sharada K. Eswar, Faten Toubasi, Melanie Fernandez-Alvres, Michael Burtt and Waleed Abdulhamid. To help us build these large-scale events, a team of 22 MABELLE Youth Leaders met with MABELLEartists through the spring to assist in the development of Iftar Nights, and build leadership skills in order to act as hosts and event assistants at each event. MABELLEyouth contributed a total of 702 volunteer hours to their community.
“Celebrating Iftar with my neighbours is important because many people here don’t get the opportunity to celebrate Iftar in Canada by visiting family and friends, the way we did back home. In Mabelle Park, we provide everyone who comes with the opportunity to celebrate Iftar as a community; we get to meet new people, join in art activities, and try new food.” – Farah Jibril, MABELLEarts' Community Leader
Family Day Camps in Mabelle & Broadacres Park
This year, we offered two free family day-camps, one each in Mabelle and Broacres Park, welcoming a total of 158 children of all ages and their parents to take part in fun and inviting drop-in arts activities, including: natural dying; sewing/embroidery; singing; theatre games; drumming; nature walks; miniature-making and unstructured, supervised play. We had originally envisioned this camp as a program to primarily engaged Syrian refugees, through our partnership with The Arab Community Centre of Toronto, located next door to Broadacres Park, however, early in the summer, a new partnership with The City of Toronto's Birkdale Residence at the Quality Hotel introduced us to new participants and shaped the camps, and the rest of the summer, in unexpected and exciting ways.
The Quality Hotel, located nearby both our parks and only 10 minutes from Pearson Airport, is currently operating as a City of Toronto Shelter to provide temporary housing to around 300 asylum-seekers from countries of origin including Yemen, The Sudan and Eritrea. The hotel was proving to be a challenging landing-point for these newcomer families, as it is far removed from community services, activities, public/green spaces or easily accessible public transport. Staff and residents expressed an overwhelming desire for free, fun and family-oriented programming for children of all ages, and so we began offering weekly programs in the hotel's under-used activity room and inviting the families to join our summer programs. After successfully busing Quality Hotel residents to each of our Iftar Nights, we adapted our plans for the camps so that they would best serve the families we had met. During the camps, MABELLEartists and youth traveled twice a day between our sites and The Quality Hotel, accompanying 66 asylum-seekers of all ages and helping them integrate into our programming by: .
- Working with the shelter to provide packed lunches and snacks for participants
- Supporting our artists to develop a range of activities that would be inviting and recreational for children, as well as relaxing and enjoyable for their parents
- Including nature walks and park tours to introduce newly arrived families to features of the neighbourhood and park.
- Providing volunteer opportunities to adults in need of Canadian experience and references
- Selecting culturally specific entry-points in our arts programming, especially with the help of musician, Waleed Abdulhamid, who taught and performed popular songs in Arabic and Swahili throughout the camps.
- Utilizing our experienced Youth Leaders to provide translation, childcare, social/cultural interpretation, one-on-one support, and workshop assistance
- Introducing Quality Hotel families to more established neighbourhood families - their new neighbours who they are unlikely to encounter at the hotel
Through this partnership, the families from the Quality Hotel became central to the success of our 2017 summer camps and had an incredible impact on the volunteers, neighbours, artists and families involved. The success of these camps and the relationships they fostered became central to our summer programming and Performative Picnic public events.
"Welcoming the asylum seekers from Quality Hotel to Broadacres Park was my favourite part of the summer. These families were new to Canada and didn’t get to go out much because there is nothing near the hotel. By inviting them to have fun and make art with us, I think we helped them feel they have a place in the city and have a better time here. This was very inspiring to me and I met many people who I love." - Nada Johar, MABELLEyouth
Performative Picnics in Broadacres Park
A picnic is: "...an entertainment at which each person contributed some dish to a common table; an excursion or pleasure party in which the members partake of a collation or repast (usually in the open air, and from food carried by themselves)".
Throughout August, with support from The Propeller Project and contributions from many artists and community members, we hosted four public events in Broadacres Park, envisioning this under-used green-space as a common table and picnicking site for neighbours and families from nearby and across Etobicoke. Our team of artists designed activities that would welcome people of all ages and backgrounds to join in, share food, and get to know each other, while exploring picnicking as a cultural form, and collecting picnicking memories and stories from across the city and around the world. The picnics were attended by 232 people, including local West Mall residents, clients from The Arab Community Centre of Toronto, our committed MABELLEyouth Leaders, and bus-loads of guests from The Quality Hotel and Mabelle Avenue. Through taking part in participatory arts actives including singing, visual arts, performance and textile arts, we together brought this image of A Common Table to life.
The summer culminated in our final picnic, which brought together the community-created artworks in a celebratory performance that featured choral singing, performative poetry, contributions by local cooks, a completed quilted/embroidered picnic-blanket, and the installation of naturally-died sun-shelters for picnicking under in the sunny park. This final picnic celebrated the many new relationships and connections that had been built through a summer of coming together in Mabelle and Broadacres Park, of people who had invested time to volunteer in their communities, meet their neighbours, share, meet and repast together.
"The MABELLEarts picnics are the first time since I had my three children that I have a place to come and take part in something that is good for me as well as good for them. They can play games and sing songs, and I can sew and make art and relax. We bring picnic food to share and we get to know people who live near us and welcome them to the area. Thank you to everyone who made this possible." - Hatice, West Mall resident
"First Iftar for me ever in Canada. We enjoyed our time with you all. All were happy. we heard Azaan, we shared food, we celebrated and enjoyed Arabic traditional songs and music. People from everywhere, from every religion were there. This is how humanity is. Thank you MABELLEarts team, no word can explain how precious your work is to all people around you" - Islam Rezk, Community Participant
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"The first time I was [in Broadacres Park] was, 'I don't know this place, where am I?' A few months later and I feel like I'm part of the place. Everyone was very welcoming." - Mohamoud Mohammed, Youth Volunteer
Arab Community Centre of Toronto
City of Toronto Birkdale Residence at the Quality Inn and Toronto Plaza Hotel
Islington Village BIA
Making Room Community Arts
The Community Arts Guild
The Together Project
Toronto Community Housing
Toronto Parks, Forestrey & Recreation
Trinity Square Video
Leah Houston (Artistic Director)
Shifra Shifra Cooper (Assistant Artistic Director)
Fiona Raye Clarke (Operations Manager)
Christen Kong (Project/Outreach Coordinator)
Joseph Leo Callender
Sharada K. Eswar
Adrienne Marcus Raja
"This summer, I volunteered with MABELLEarts and we welcomed many new people to Mabelle Park. I learned to plant flowers; I played with kids and made art. I discovered that I would like to do more in my community and that I really like taking part in community events here that make us all feel welcome." - Anisa, Youth Volunteer
This year is one of profound growth and development at MABELLEarts. We're moving into the final year of a three-year residency at Broadacres Park, working with community members and partners to imagine the long-term legacy of that project. We've received funding from the Federal government to launch a national project that brings together immigrant-serving organizations in urban areas with artists and First Nations to develop new projects that welcome newcomers while beautifying, enlivening and animating parks and public spaces. We're working with funders and supporters to build out our highly-successful youth project into a year-long program because we all see the powerful impact its making in the lives of young people. Finally, an over $400,000 investment from the City of Toronto is supporting a new layer of physical transformation in the Mabelle Park, including a four-seasons fieldhouse design-build that will provide indoor programming, kitchen and office space. Aligned with this transformation is the development of a long-term lease agreement between MABELLEarts and Toronto Community Housing (who currently own the park). Leasing Mabelle Park will make it one of the first community-operated parks in Canada. We're leveraging this opportunity to create a comprehensive economic strategy for residents who will take on roles maintaining and animating Mabelle Park. We hope GTAA will continue to support us in this time of growth and innovation - there are many opportunities to get involved!