MABELLEarts developed out of a highly successful four-year residency of our predecessor and “Mothership” Jumblies Theatre. The Jumblies residency culminated in a large-scale community play, involving over 100 community members and 50 professional artists. At the conclusion of the play, a process was initiated to determine whether the neighbourhood would like to see community arts projects continue. MABELLEarts was founded in March of 2007 under the name Pigeon Creek Collective with resounding support from Mabelle tenants.
Our first project, Lantern Garden brought together kids and their families with professional artists and builders to repair the Mabelle Park. In 2008, we began to imagine a project that could harness the energy uncovered during our first summer to transform the park from a neglected thoroughfare into a vibrant, multi-purpose cultural hub. In 2009 we received multi-year funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to make this vision a reality and have received funding from a number of private and public sources to further support the process. Our park transformation project (called A Park of Many Paths) has included the collaborative creation of new park furniture, an outdoor kitchen and bake oven, community gardens, performances and ceremonies, community dinners and more. Since 2008, MABELLEarts has worked with over 2000 community members and 65 professional artists, architects, gardeners and others to transform and animate the Mabelle Park.
In 2011 we held our first large-scale Mid -Winter parade created in collaboration with Mabelle residents of all ages and involving community arts companies from across the city. “A Light In Mid Winter” involved over 100 community members and welcomed an audience of over 300 to parade images of migration, across Dundas Street West to the historic site of Montgomery’s Inn. This annual winter celebration explores through pageantry and festivity, images of arrival, departure and belonging: themes and images that have also made their way into Mabelle Park's landscape over the years.
The artistic vision of all MABELLEarts projects grows from the belief that art making and sharing is an essential part of everyday life. We believe that the act of making beautiful a shared space, object or event is essential to the role of the artist and the promise of urban renewal.
This has always been the role of art – to enliven communities, spark conversations and engender a sense of shared ownership and power in neglected places. MABELLEarts has grown out of a long-standing commitment to be in the community in which we work, sharing everyday life with people living there and working with them to develop solutions to often- complex problems. As we work together to fix what is broken, we uncover opportunities to teach and learn, get to know one another and become friends. We learn to work together to make positive changes in our neighbourhood, we begin to see our own lives, stories, hopes and dreams reflected in our surroundings – often for the first time.
In 2012, MABELLEarts and Toronto Community Housing received Section 37 funds from the City of Toronto to complete the physical transformation of the Mabelle Park. This support funded electricity hook up, lighting and new stairs for the northern corner of the park. We also received support from the Etobicoke Rotary Club to help install a community-created outdoor kitchen. In the early spring of 2014, MABELLEarts worked with Storyboard Furniture Inc. to salvage lumber from several park trees in decline. The trees were milled on-site with the help of youth leaders and volunteers to use for a variety of projects, including a park shed funded by TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.
Toronto Community Housing-managed capital improvements were finally initiated and completed from August to October 2015. The moment the construction fences were removed, MABELLEarts staff, artists and community leaders hit the ground running to install (and in some cases build from scratch) specific projects that had been on hold pending the installation of hydro and lighting.
Over two-hundred kids and youth from ages five to twenty participated in our park clean-ups post capital improvements. Once we got our park back to the state we're used to, we set to work installing (and in some cases building from scratch) community created elements of the capital improvements, including a meeting post, magic gate way, pebble mosaics and shed.
In the fall of 2014, Toronto Police Services invited MABELLEarts to visit a small park in the heart of the West Mall – a low-rise Toronto Community Housing complex in Central Etobicoke. The park had been the site of a homicide that spring and West Mall residents were working with Toronto Police to address immediate safety issues in the area.
In the summer of 2015 we received funding from the Toronto Arts Council's Targeted Enhanced Funding program to spend time in the park. The low-density nature of the complex made it difficult to meet new people, but when we did, we found a shared dislike of the park and a reluctance to spend any time there at all.
Within the West Mall neighbourhood is a large and somewhat under-utilized City of Toronto Park called Broadacres - located a 5 minute walk away from the West Mall complex. Discovering Broadacres Park was like finding the final piece of a puzzle, as we realized that we could bring West Mall residents the short distance to Broadacres to collaborate on art and nature projects. Activities at Broadacres will lay the groundwork for future revitalization at West Mall, while providing positive and lasting benefits at Broadacres Park.