During the Global Pandemic, Building a More Inclusive Toronto Through Storytelling and Sharing, One Neighbourhood at a Time – 

November 25, 2020

 

During the Global Pandemic, Building a More Inclusive Toronto Through Storytelling and Sharing, One Neighbourhood at a Time – 

 

TORONTO – Amidst a global pandemic, the Toronto Ward Museum’s Block by Block program has launched a city-wide public exhibition, an online exhibition, and live virtual events that celebrate resilience, build solidarity, and foster conversations among diverse communities.  

 

Block by Block is a participatory, multimedia program in its second year of development in Toronto. Each year, a new team of 16 youths are trained to interview community members in their own neighbourhoods of Agincourt, Parkdale, Regent Park, and Victoria Park about their experiences of migration, settlement, and civic life in Toronto. These neighbourhoods have served as landing spots for newcomers and continue to be spaces where diverse groups of people live. All are undergoing rapid redevelopment and how they change is of increased urgency as a result of COVID-19.

 

The 2020 Block by Block team has been working together virtually since the lockdowns began in March. They have produced an exhibition of 25 artistic posters on the windows of 25 local businesses and community centres throughout the four neighbourhoods. Live virtual events and new online content showcase stories of community care and grassroots organising, celebrate local relationships, and explore the effects of neighbourhood change – conversations that are more relevant than ever as cities rebuild from the pandemic. The exhibits and events are underway and will run until November 30 (see below for locations and schedule).

 

“It’s been a ray of sunshine to have the Block by Block posters displayed in our front window. These days have seemed so full of problem solving one thing after another, and it is such a joy to take a moment and look at these images and read the stories, and remember what we love about our neighbourhood,” said Sharon Abel, manager of YSM’s Double Take Thrift Store in Regent Park. 

 

Event participants and exhibition visitors have also found it a positive and inspiring  experience. Dr. Zhixi C. Zhuang,  Associate Professor at the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson University, expressed, “[The storytellers’]  lived experiences have unpacked the multifaceted nature of the multicultural reality, revealed immigrants’ struggles and negotiations for space and rights, and shed a light on how the community as a whole should embrace diversity and inclusion. The digital storytelling through photographs and videos empower immigrants who are traditionally underrepresented to make their voices heard, and share their valuable insights with the wider community.”

 

She concluded that, “Block by Block carries a heavy weight in promoting intercultural understanding and fostering inclusive community-building, and will have a long lasting impact on our diverse communities.”

 

For more information about Block by Block, please contact:

Aashna Thakkar

Toronto Ward Museum

marketing@wardmuseum.ca

647-393-5395

About Block by Block

 

Block by Block is a program of the Toronto Ward Museum, a museum without walls and a registered charity. It is funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Inspirit Foundation, University of Toronto School of Cities with support from the Faculty of Information, and the City of Toronto Music Office (City Hall Live). The Toronto Ward Museum is leading Block by Block in partnership with ten other organisations. They are: Agincourt Community Services Association; City of Toronto Newcomer Office; Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI); Regent Park Film Festival; Ryerson University; Toronto Community Benefits Network; Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre; Toronto Public Library; West Neighbourhood House; Working Women Community Centre.

 

This is the third round of Block by Block events. In 2017, the Toronto Ward Museum and nine partner organisations ran Block by Block nationally, focusing on historic immigrant neighbourhoods in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. Over one year, the national team engaged 520 participants; recorded 30 oral histories in 3 neighbourhoods; co-created 3 local exhibitions; co-curated an online exhibition (visited 5000+ times); and hosted three “Block Parties”, where the research team and local partners animated neighbourhood stories with creative programming.  2019 was Block by Block’s first year in its current four neighbourhoods.

 

Wardmuseum.ca

@TOWard Museum (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

During the Global Pandemic, Building A More Inclusive Toronto Through the Sharing of Stories, One Neighbourhood at a Time

Block by Block

TORONTO – In the midst of the global pandemic and even as the politics of division continue to polarize, the Toronto Ward Museum’s Block by Block program is launching public exhibitions and live virtual events that celebrate resilience, build solidarity and foster conversations among diverse communities. 

 

Block by Block is a participatory, multimedia program in it’s 2nd year of development in Toronto at the Toronto Ward Museum. Each year, a new team of 16 young people are trained to interview community members in their own neighbourhoods of Agincourt, Parkdale, Regent Park and Victoria Park about their lived experiences of migration, settlement and civic life in Toronto. These neighbourhoods have served as landing spots for newcomers, and continue to be spaces where diverse groups of people live.  All are redeveloping rapidly and how they change is of increased urgency as a result of COVID-19.

 

The 2020 Block by Block team has been working together virtually since the pandemic hit in March and has produced an exhibition of 25 posters that will be mounted in windows of local businesses and community services throughout the four neighbourhoods. Live virtual events and new online content will also showcase stories of community care and grassroots organizing, celebrate local relationships and explore the effects of neighbourhood change- all more relevant than ever as cities rebuild from the pandemic. The exhibits and events will run from November 13-30 (see below for locations and schedule).

 

“We’re actively creating spaces for dialogue- across neighbourhoods, sectors, generations and differences. And we have found that the acts of sharing stories and of listening are more important than ever,” stated Maggie Hutcheson, Block by Block Program Director, Toronto Ward Museum.  “Our young team has recorded a remarkable range of stories from community members, including stories of systemic racism, gentrification and displacement, but also stories of love and the simple ways that neighbours support each other. These are stories that connect Torontonians across the city.”

 

Participants in the program have also found it a positive and powerful experience during the pandemic. “Block by Block has been such a pleasure to participate in. The young curators took such care and created a safe, comfortable and open space that really allowed me to tell my story. I just loved the energy everyone brought to the project. This pandemic has been tough in  many ways but Block by Block has provided a much needed breath of fresh air and magic in our neighbourhood” said Vijay Saravanamuthu, an interviewee in the Agincourt neighbourhood.

 

For more information about Block by Block, please contact:

 

Aashna Thakkar

Toronto Ward Museum

marketing@wardmuseum.ca

647-393-5395

About Block by Block

 

Block by Block is a program of the Toronto Ward Museum, a museum without walls and a registered charity. It is funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Inspirit Foundation and the City of Toronto Music Office (City Hall Live). The Toronto Ward Museum is leading Block by Block in partnership with ten other organizations. They are: Agincourt Community Services Association; City of Toronto Newcomer Office; Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI); Regent Park Film Festival; Ryerson University; Toronto Community Benefits Network; Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre; Toronto Public Library; West Neighbourhood House; Working Women Community Centre.

 

This is the third round of Block by Block events. In 2017, the Toronto Ward Museum and nine partner organizations ran Block by Block nationally, focusing on historic immigrant neighbourhoods in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Over one year, the national team engaged 520 participants; recorded 30 oral histories in 3 neighbourhoods; co-created 3 local exhibitions; co-curated an online exhibition (visited 5000+ times); and hosted three “Block Parties”, where the research team and local partners animated neighbourhood stories with creative programming.  2019 was Block by Block’s first year in its current four neighbourhoods.

 

Wardmuseum.ca

@TOWard Museum (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

TORONTO WARD MUSEUM – MUSEUM POLICY SUBMISSION TO THE DEPARTMENT OF CANADIAN HERITAGE (DCH)

MUSEUM POLICY SUBMISSION

TO THE DEPARTMENT OF CANADIAN HERITAGE (DCH)

By Toronto Ward Museum

Submitted after the September 3, 2020 Virtual Roundtable Dialogue

COVID-19 has had devastating impacts on the cultural, heritage, and sport sectors, which were among the first to close, and will be among the last to fully reopen. The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Canadian Heritage, along with Parliamentary Secretary Julie Dabrusin invited the Toronto Ward Museum (TWM) to attend a virtual roundtable on visual and digital/multimedia arts, museums, and heritage institutions.

The event was held on September 3, 2020 and the TWW was capably represented by our immediate past chair, Douglas Worts.  The objective of the session was to receive feedback and dig deeper into some of the challenges, ideas, and proposals set forth by the broader arts and heritage community.  Attendees were also invited to submit written policy recommendations to be used to help make informed decisions on potential program changes and funding processes, as the Government of Canada continues to develop and adjust its economic recovery efforts

TWM Past Chair Douglas Worts authored the TWM submission, with contributions from Julia Matamoros, Irina Mihalache and Perry Lupyrypa, and we are pleased to share it with you below:

 

*****

CONTEXT:

We live in a time when the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has committed to redefining the very essence of what a ‘museum’ actually means. For many, museums need to be redefined and re-tooled so that they address the critical issues and trends that are shaping the living culture. Essentially to be truly relevant to our living culture. Amongst these trends and issues are the need to transform long-standing patterns of systemic anti-Black and Indigenous racism, as well as the systematic destruction of the biosphere. Historically, museums were not designed to address these types of challenges. As a result, efforts must be made to re-tool and redirect museums so that they help living cultures to adapt and transform in relationship to the changing realities of our world.

 

Changing the definition of museums will always be a contested process because it is seen by some as potentially destabilizing for the status quo. However, ICOM understands that there are currently a massive number of organizations around the globe that are working to further the cultural wellbeing of communities, in pursuit of a better world. The sad fact is that many of these organizations currently do not even meet official definitions of ‘museum’ – and therefore do not receive the kinds of support they need to achieve their cultural goals. The Toronto Ward Museum suffers from this reality in Canada – and it is not currently eligible for core funding as a museum.

 

Cultural organizations clearly need resources in order to operate – an essential role played by governments for a long time. But for organizations like the TWM, which do not conform to traditional museum definitions and traits (especially that the museum has no collection nor building), essential aspects of the museum go unfunded. Despite much success at raising project funding, the TWM has experienced critical gaps in financing vital administrative functions not included in project financing. Chronic challenges emerge that only take away from the innovative work of such museums and their partners. In addition, innovating new models for generating meaningful impacts on the living culture require special financial attention. Analyzing cultural trends, mapping societal systems dynamics, searching for effective leverage points, generating innovation, prototyping, testing, processing feedback, modifying strategies and so on, all take time and money. These types of activities, when tied only to project funding, all too often result in fragmented and frustrated efforts.

 

It is becoming clearer that the failure of our societies to address the large, wicked problems that have converged into an existential crisis, have common roots in the values, behaviours, traditions and systems of our societies. To say this another way, it is culture that has created these conditions, and only cultural change will alter their courses in significant ways. If the Department of Canadian Heritage sees the operations of cultural organizations in this light, then government has a potentially vital role to play in nurturing new processes of systematic transformation, as well as the generation of meaningful cultural impacts across society. As a major funding body for Canadian museums, DCH is in a unique and strategic role to facilitate this work – acknowledging that it too will need to acquire new skills, capacities and performance indicators for its own work.

 

Over my career in the museum world, it has become clear to me that DCH has its own hierarchical structures, silos and visions. These regularly are updated of course. However, it seems likely that, in order for the cultural sector to rise to the challenge of becoming cultural catalysts and change, DCH will need to re-examine its own operational assumptions and re-cast its own vision of the future. Such change within status quo structures and organizations has become widely acknowledged as being essential across our society, if we are to successfully navigate towards a culture of sustainability and flourishing.

 

TWM POLICY RECOMMENDATION

 

Continuing calls from the museum sector for a new National Museum Policy, reflect the urgent need for meaningful change. Specifically, the changes that seem most needed for museums are ones that will help them to serve the living culture, not simply institutionalized culture. The Toronto Ward Museum encourages DCH to embark on a significant transformation of its museum program so that the focus is less on organizational outputs (e.g. exhibits and onsite programs) and more on community-based, cultural impacts that contribute to wellbeing across all stakeholders. Increasingly, it seems vital to conduct this work within an integrated social, environmental and economic framework, based on equity, wellbeing and cultural adaptation. This is no mean feat in our fast-changing, pluralist world, in which social justice seems increasingly elusive and our systems of human culture have resulted in exceeding the carrying capacity of the planet. As challenging as this all sounds, there seems to be few other visible options. Culture is the foundation of how we live – and it is here where the most foundational change must occur. Cultural organizations can not realize such a vision alone. It will require completely new forms of vision and values-aligned partnerships, involving governance, business, traditional non-profits, NGOs, individuals, communities and, of course Nature (through human stand-ins and scientists representing Nature’s interests). It’s a tall order.

 

Through its recent consultations with the museum community across Canada, DCH has striven to understand the changing needs of the ‘cultural sector’. This is greatly appreciated by museums, especially given the fast-changing, complex and embattled world we all inhabit.  We look forward to DCH working with the field to generate new supportive strategies that can help museums to be effective in their efforts to foster ‘cultures of flourishing’. One of the emergent insights of this challenge, specifically relevant for the 2020s, is to focus on how the cultural sector can best create meaningful cultural impacts that are relevant for securing human and environmental wellbeing. As mentioned before, the most pressing issues in our culture of pluralism include the ongoing problems of systemic inequity – especially anti-Black and Indigenous racism, as well as systematic destruction of the biosphere. These issues exist on a widespread scale across virtually all human cultures, and the drivers are woven into social, economic, legal and political systems. Finding ways to draw insights from the past, to change and adapt in the present, while aspiring to visions of a viable future, are all tasks that require the mobilization of the ‘muses’. Significantly, this cannot be done through traditional approaches to museums that focus on visits to bricks and mortar facilities, and which operate in the leisure-time economy (which require both discretionary time and money to even walk through the doors). Building societal cohesion requires a major focus on building relationships – between individuals; within and across groups; between people and organizations; between people and societal systems. What is needed societally from museums, as cultural organizations in 2020, is very different than it was a century or two ago – even 30 years ago.

 

The future of cultural organizations will not be found in simply finding new funding measures for status quo operations. There is a vital need to clarify the cultural needs and opportunities that are present in the living culture. It is essential that youth and diversity play critical roles within the processes of understanding the challenges of the status quo, envisioning the future for the cultural sector and linking it to the vision of a viable, sustainable culture within a healthy biosphere. With clarity on this front, it would be possible for DCH to mobilize the cultural sector around much more meaningful cultural goals and desired impacts. It seems certain that the current approach of DCH through project grants will need to be rethought in fundamental ways. The piecemeal nature of project grants often works against the realization for supporting an evolving, responsive vision. There also may be many reasons to rethink the nature of how current museums have been incorporated – since all of these structures are designed to perpetuate the status quo (with some provisions for tinkering at the edges). The next 20 to 50 years will feel very different from how the sector has operated in the past – and this is likely true for every sector in society. Change is in the air! That is the scale of cultural transformation that is required. There is little chance for realizing such a vision for the cultural sector, unless DCH is able to embrace it and become a very active facilitator in the process.

 

Given all of this, it is important to acknowledge that there is a prevailing conservatism within the cultural sector. So moving forward DCH will need to work hard to help create an environment capable of supporting front-line experimentation that revolves around planning for cultural impacts and outcomes. It would also make a lot of sense for DCH to be working in partnership with the Canadian Museums Association, and through them, the provincial museum associations, to build a fully integrated approach to the generation of a new cultural vision that revolves around the concepts of cultural adaptation and cultural impacts. Through such an approach DCH can help ensure that the many people who currently work in traditional museum environments are invigorated, passionate and committed participants in realizing this vision. The cultural sector is filled with creative professionals. With the right support, the creativity of this workforce can be engaged in redirecting the ship(s) in ways that help build a new and emerging cultural reality that is solidly grounded in flourishing for all.

 

TWM MODEL

The Toronto Ward Museum was created in 2015 with a vision of helping to address many systemic issues encountered in the lives of immigrants. Specifically, the TWM has developed co-creative strategies to build meaning, insights and relationships through the sharing of cultural stories. It uses a variety of contexts to achieve its goals – variously involving food, intergenerational research, oral histories, storytelling, mentoring and more. The TWM has been creatively innovating new approaches through a wide spectrum of collaborations, with a host of community-based partners. It is through the co-creative activities of the partners, working within specific community/cultural contexts, that produces the magic that impacts people. Sometimes the impacts are experienced primarily at the level of individuals, while at other times the impacts are felt within or between groups. The aspiration is to be able to scale positive, relationship-enhancing impacts, while maintaining the cohesion-building dynamics that can remain within communities long after a Toronto Ward Museum project concludes.

 

At the heart of the TWM model is a focus on three large areas of activity and impact. The museum strives to foster a spirit and practice of reflection, dialogue and co-creative action.

 

  1. Reflection is a process of looking inward as one hears about the experiences of others. When a person hears another’s stories, it can create resonances that draw on their own personal experiences. Such sharing can spur deep reflection about unexamined assumptions that one has lived with for a long time. Empathy can emerge from such moments of relatedness, providing a central process that helps people to connect in deep ways. By sharing personal and cultural stories, empathy enables individuals to relate to the experiences of others – thereby building relationship. And relationships constitute the heart of culture. It is relationships that open the way for creating an environment of trust and respect.
  2. Dialogue is vital if relationships are to develop between people. This is particularly true in our increasingly pluralist world. And these are not one-off conversations to be fostered during occasional visits to museums and cultural sites. Relationships require sustained dialogue, over a period of time, if meaningful cohesion is to be built. Dialogue involves the skills of both listening and sharing. These are not as simple as they seem. And the need for cohesion arises not simply in the leisure-time context of going to a museum. Rather, it must happen wherever people are working or living with others – throughout the living culture. The TWM’s approach, of creating a wide array of contexts for carrying out this work, is helping to expand the concept of ‘museum’ beyond the bricks and mortar of collection-based facilities. There are many opportunities to push the boundaries of this approach to nurturing the ‘muses’ within the living culture, not only within institutionalized settings.
  3. Co-creative Action is essential if the cultural inertia of the status quo is to be supplanted by an ability of museums to bring a mindfulness of, and an ability to foster, the active weaving together of cultural strands. Since our local and global ‘culture of pluralism’ has resulted in far too many situations of systemic inequity, barriers to meeting one’s own needs, environmental destruction and more, co-creative action must extend beyond public programs within a bricks and mortar museum. The museum needs to become a catalyst for cultural action that resonates and spreads through the living culture. This requires museums to develop new skills in the analysis of cultural trends, blockages, barriers and opportunities for meaningful cultural impacts. It will also require new approaches and creative strategies for addressing these realities, in contexts that function as leverage points for cultural change and transformation. There are already smaller organizations that are already rooted in community and demonstrating insights into how such processes can be fostered – such as the TWM. For too long, museums have seen their roles as primarily ‘experts’ that dispense knowledge and insights. While knowledge and insights are vital, they are insufficient for catalyzing cultural transformation in a changing world. This is the work that museums are capable of embracing. This is not to diminish the importance of collections and of the public spaces that museums occupy. Collections and buildings can be powerful tools in fostering a culture of pluralism and community flourishing. But the place where change has to be measured is in the living culture – not simply within the institutionally defined boundaries of leisure-time activities for those with the time and money to engage. Co-creative action requires partnerships that are vision and values-aligned – which is no small feat in our world of reductionist, ideological entrenchment.

 

CULTURAL IMPACT FROM THE MUSEUM SECTOR

 

Museums and galleries have long been generators of exhibits and onsite programs. They monitor attendance and revenue as a way of measuring public interest and impact. However, these are not measures of cultural impact – they are simply corporate measures of attendance and revenue. Although the museum audience research community has been alive and well for almost 40 years in North America, it remains a rather minuscule part of museum operations. And even where museums employ audience researchers, they often have a very difficult time having their insights woven into the public program development processes. The issue is that the vast majority of museum programs are created as outputs and are not planned as being strategies to create cultural impacts. They often fall into the category of edutainment. Although often generating audiences that are happy enough with their experiences – very little is known about what the public goes away with or how people have been impacted. This is especially true with many permanent collection exhibits, most notably in large museums. If museums want to see themselves as being catalysts of cultural adaptation in a changing world, many new skills, strategies, partnerships and measures of success and impact must be nurtured.

 

VISION FOR THE FUTURE:

 

Within museological circles, there are an increasing number of examples where the vision for public programs is for participatory, co-creative impacts on communities. The Museums Association of the UK has adopted the motto of “Museums Change Lives”. The MA has been working for years to foster museum experimentation that demonstrates this aspiration. It is worth examining where measurable impacts have actually been generated to fully assess the extent of the MA’s real progress on this front.

 

Similarly, the Happy Museum Project (UK),  which has been operating for almost a decade, is an experimental research and development program that has evolved over time. It offers many tools to help museums access and leverage the ‘muses’ through co-creative programming. They have developed and refined a set of principles, which are as follows:

 

  1. Create the conditions for wellbeing
  2. Value the environment and be a steward of the future as well as the past
  3. Be an active citizen
  4. Pursue mutual relationships
  5. Learn for resilience
  6. Measure what matters

 

Each of these principles is elaborated on their website – and they have produced a considerable body of research about the experimental projects developed through the HMP. The HMP has also embraced the integrated process of generating a ‘story of change’ to direct and guide projects towards successful outcomes. This is a process that would both challenge and benefit museums if it was fully integrated into museological methods.

 

In North America, some of the most noteworthy progressive museum work has been undertaken at the Museum of Art and History, in Santa Cruz, California, under the direction of Nina Simon . Simon took over the failing museum and transformed it into a hub and a catalyst that aims to co-create a culture of social connection, empathy, inclusion and vibrancy. It is a model well worth examining.

 

CANADIAN MUSEUM ENVIRONMENT

Canada requires a robust and supportive environment for museums to experiment with new forms of public engagement and to develop methods for assessing cultural impacts. Such an approach needs to involve all stakeholders – including government, museum associations, museums, galleries, zoos, science centres and so on – as well as co-creators across communities. As a funder and facilitator of museums, arts and heritage organizations, the DCH is positioned to play a critical leadership role in devising a new vision for the field that is nurtured from the front-lines and receives buy-in from all stakeholders (which means everyone – not simply those who currently are engaged with existing cultural organizations).

 

Inside-Outside Model: Museums Planning for Cultural Impacts

 

One tool that may be helpful as DCH considers its next steps is the “Inside-Outside Model: Museums Planning for Cultural Impact” ( A recent version is available at worldviewsconsulting.ca/blog – July 18, 2020 entry).

 

The Inside-Outside Model was developed by Douglas Worts, as part of the Sustainability Task Force of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) in the USA. It helps to differentiate how what is done internally within museums, can be linked to the cultural needs that exist outside the museum.

 

*********

Submitted on behalf of the Toronto Ward Museum, Sept 14, 2020

 

Douglas Worts

Past-Chairperson, Board of Directors, Toronto Ward Museum – www.wardmuseum.ca

Culture & Sustainability Specialist, WorldViews Consulting

Toronto, Canada

 

Email: dcworts@douglasworts.ca

Blog: www.worldviewsconsulting.ca/blog/

Business website: www.worldviewsconsulting.ca

 

“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of.

In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”

Confucius

The Ward Museum and Strategies to Promote Community-Led Heritage Activities

Authored by Johnny Lau

The Toronto Ward Museum was founded in 2015 with the intention of preserving and interpreting Toronto’s migrant histories. It was named after the historical ward located in the city that was home to much of Toronto’s immigrant community, including Black, Chinese, Jewish, and Italian settlers. The Ward Museum was created with the intent to record and preserve the oral history of non-native and Indigenous residents of the city, and to provide and encourage public interaction and dialogue about the city’s migrant past and diverse communities.

The Toronto Ward Museum believes strongly in the importance of community-led efforts and engagement with locals to promote local heritage and history about migration. The Museum was founded by a multidisciplinary group of young professionals from a variety of sectors and who themselves are immigrants who have come to Canada or who have deep connections with those who have. In doing so, they wish to expand the inclusion of migrants in Toronto’s heritage sector by encouraging younger researchers with diverse backgrounds to become more involved with the heritage sector and by integrating stories from Toronto’s migrant communities and their heritage into contemporary discussions about Toronto’s redevelopment and path forward.

The Toronto Ward Museum and its partnership with 46 local, provincial, and national organizations across Canada to date have played a large role in the success of the Ward Museum since the Museum first began operations. These partnerships have played a large role in the Museum’s growth, allowing the Museum to be included in important discussions surrounding heritage in Toronto as well as helping to guide the Museum’s direction and path forward. The Museum’s partners play a large role in the Museum’s operating apparatus, working with the Museum to carry out its programs, serving on the Museum’s Programming Committee, helping to provide and arrange physical space and locations for the Museum’s meetings and programming exhibitions, and providing advice and recommendations to the Museum during the creation of the Museum’s policies. In return the Museum’s partners have recognized the work the Museum is doing as valuable for fostering connections and conversations between Toronto’s non-native and Indigenous communities, as many of the Museum’s partners have a deep and intimate connection with these communities.

The Museum’s largest program, Block by Block, showcases some of the strategies that the Museum is using in order to promote community-based heritage leadership among Toronto’s migrant community. Block by Block began in 2017 as a national program as part of initiatives and programs surrounding Canada 150 that aims to build connections among Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver’s historic migrant neighbourhoods by focusing on personal, individual narratives of migration and settlement. Since then, the Museum has continued the program with a focus on Toronto’s migrant heritage, singling out four neighbourhoods that have historically been destinations for Toronto’s minority and migrant population with the intention of recording oral histories from the residents.

Partnering with local organizations in these neighbourhoods to identify individuals and provide space for the Museum’s Block Party exhibits, the Museum hopes to shine a light on the personal oral history of individuals living in the neighbourhood and encourage conversations within the local communities as questions over the city’s redevelopment in these places are ongoing. It also hopes to encourage younger residents to become involved with the history and heritage industry of Toronto, and to form and foster stronger connections within their local community. The Museum does this by principally training young and diverse researchers, many of whom are newcomers with no prior experience working in the heritage sector, to interview and engage with residents about their experiences in their neighbourhoods. As part of this, they are taught important skills in building professional and community networks and conducting interviews, as well as being trained in exhibit curation and recording equipment. Many young researchers have gone on to use their newfound experience and connections within their communities in their future career paths, either in heritage or fields like social work and urban planning, and afterwards have recommended others become involved in the work the Museum is doing.

 

Funded by / Financé par:

Hungry? Get a taste of food and culture with Dishing Up Toronto

Dishing Up Toronto Logo

What goes better with storytelling than incredibly tasty food? The Toronto Ward Museum’s signature program, Dishing Up Toronto, aims to create space for locals to tell their stories of migration using food as a vehicle for storytelling. The process of planning and developing the tours spanned nearly three months as museum staff (including myself and co-founder Gracia Dyer Jalea) worked with the museum’s institutional partners Heritage Toronto, the Culinaria Research Centre, and Kapisanan to help train and provide tools for four local Torontonians to be able to develop and deliver their own unique food and storytelling tours.

The dynamic duo of Leo and Arlene Chan, local food blogger Aisha Silim, and emerging arts professional Joyce Voegler participated in three workshops and a dress rehearsal as part of their training for the tours. During this process, the Toronto Ward Museum acted as a supporting and guiding force in terms of working out logistics and providing suggestions, but ultimately it was up to the tour guides to decide where they wanted to hold their tours, which local restaurants and businesses they wished to feature, and how their migration story would be highlighted using food. Within this model, the tour experience is different than might be found at a more traditional museum, where there is an interpreter leading the tour and telling the story. With Dishing Up Toronto, tour goers are hearing directly from the people who lived these experiences. In other words, the Toronto Ward Museum worked to create space for immigrants to be able to tell their own stories, in whatever manner they were most comfortable, without interfering or changing what the guides wanted to accomplish during their tours.

 

Arlene and Leo's Tour

Arlene Chan discusses how lichees are an important part of her migration story during ‘A Wok in Chinatown.’ Photo Credit: Sophie Burke.

I think the most poignant example of how this process differs from other museums can be found by examining the third tour in Dishing Up Toronto, which was led by Aisha Silim and was titled ‘A Taste of Ramadhan’. During the workshop process, it became apparent that the dates for the tours fell within the month of Ramadhan. Aisha, therefore, couldn’t eat during the day, when the tours were originally scheduled. However, she came up with the brilliant idea of hosting an Iftar at her aunt and uncle’s house, thereby inviting participants to join her and her family in breaking fast for the day. This tour had a similar vibe to League of Kitchens, where people are invited into a person’s home and have the chance to sit and eat together, which can be a very memorable and intimate experience. One of the participants commented that they enjoyed the “feeling of camaraderie, being able to explore migration stories in an intimate and safe space with great food and even greater conversationalists.” Throughout the evening, Aisha and her family served various tasty dishes that explored aspects of their family’s migration story, and there was much lively discussion as others joined in to share their own experiences of migration. The exchange of stories, ideas, and laughter made for an incredibly memorable experience, which is what the Toronto Ward Museum aims to do in all of its programming.

 

Aisha's Event

Participants gathered in a circle to hear and share stories of migration with Aisha and her family during ‘A Taste of Ramadhan.’ Photo Credit: Sophia Burke.

Dishing Up Toronto managed to highlight 14 local businesses and restaurants, to reach an audience of approximately 2.4 million people through media coverage, and to engage both locals and international visitors during the tours. These numbers mark a strong beginning for the Toronto Ward Museum’s programming, and we are looking forward to finding new ways to engage local Torontonians in telling stories of migration. Larry Ostola, Director for Museums & Heritage Services, and Acting Director for Arts & Culture Services, Economic Development and Culture at the City of Toronto, attended Leo and Arlene’s ‘A Wok in Chinatown,’ and commented that “The tour was very well done with top notch guides and was a fascinating blend of history, culture and food.” Feedback like this indicates that we are on the right track, however there were some challenges during the tours, as nothing goes perfectly the first time. Some participants weren’t fond of how personal the storytelling became as the tour guides shared their own experiences, and although the participants were encouraged to share their own stories of migration with the group, some were just too shy! Participatory experiences in museums are becoming more common, however we will have to continue to build a framework for our programming which will help participants engage in those experiences more fully.

 

Joyce's Tour

Joyce interviews local restaurant owner, Diona Joyce, during her ‘Balikbayan Renaissance: Kain Na! Filipino Food Tour.’ Photo Credit: Sophia Burke.

We were very happy to welcome City of Toronto Councillor Mary Fragedakis, on Joyce’s tour. She commented, “It is just wonderful how the Toronto Ward Museum wraps together fabulous food, history, culture and learning into a truly enchanting experience.” This project is something new for Toronto’s culinary tourism sector, as it offers unique, individual perspectives on the city, as well as highlights local businesses and restaurants that are often not included in other culinary tours. Overall, this pilot project was a success, and we are looking forward to improving some areas of the process in the future, to continue training guides, and developing more tours.

Dishing Up Toronto continues this November with more food and storytelling at the Pasquale Brothers warehouse in Etobicoke. Join the Pasquale family, founders of the Unico brand, on the eve of their company’s 100th anniversary, and uncover the family stories behind one of Toronto’s most recognized food brands.

For more, visit https://wardmuseum.ca/dishinguptoronto.

 

BIO

Anja Hamilton is a Master of Museum Studies student at the University of Toronto, and has spent the past summer interning at the Toronto Ward Museum. She is interested in participatory experiences in museums and looks forward to starting her career. In her spare time she can be found knitting and eating too many plates of nachos.

“Pathways to Toronto”: a collaborative partnership

The “Pathways to Toronto” online exhibit is the product of a unique and innovative collaboration between the Toronto Ward Museum (TWM) and students and scholars at the University of Toronto, Canada. The project originated in Dr. Donna Gabaccia’s seminar “Digital History: Pathways to Toronto” at the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies, University of Toronto Scarborough. Beginning in September 2015, this course taught upper-year undergraduate students about digital methods and approaches to the study of history, focusing on immigration to Toronto over the past two centuries. Each student chose one “Pathway” story of a person whose travels and relocations brought them to Toronto. Some students researched historical figures while many others interviewed living people, including their own parents and relatives. Students in the Master’s level course “Global Cultures and Museums” (iSchool, University of Toronto) took up the “Pathways to Toronto” project in January 2016. Working in groups, their central task was the interpretation of six “Pathways” stories chosen by the TWM from among the fourteen projects developed by the Digital History students. The MA students also conducted some further historical research and curated storyboards to pitch for the final online exhibition. At each level, nearly every student responded in post-project evaluations that the “Pathways” project was a challenging but rewarding experience.

Collaborative work is central to the creation of museum exhibitions, and public engagement is increasingly important to universities. Yet partnerships between museums and university students are less common, and the work done in undergraduate classrooms is rarely hosted by cultural institutions. This work is clearly worth doing. For all their hard work, students gain tangible professional experience that can be featured on their resumes. The “Pathways” project had many pedagogical benefits; it brought curatorial, digital, and collaborative work into the undergraduate history curriculum, and incorporated historical research and theory into the professional Master’s program in Museum Studies. There are also incentives for educators, including the chance to bring invention to pedagogy, to create original content with students, and to develop interdisciplinary and productive partnerships outside of the university. At an administrative level, many universities are stating their commitment to community outreach. In funding and promoting partnerships with cultural institutions, universities can prepare their students for work after graduation, provision their faculty in the production of innovative scholarship, and sustain meaningful engagement with public and institutional communities. Meanwhile, in curating and hosting university work, the museum develops unique content, grows their audience and engages in community outreach, builds links with academic partners, and supports the career development of students. There is the hope that such inventive programming will attract funding and/or sponsors for cultural institution; ideally, the success of “Pathways” will encourage other museums, including more established institutions, to pursue similar collaborations.

The TWM is not a typical museum. It’s new and run by a small but growing and committed team. It’s a digital and interactive space centrally dedicated to inclusivity, social justice, and civic engagement. Moreover, the TWM is distinct as a community-led effort to establish a cultural institution that searches, invites, and creates space for these kinds of partnerships. The museum’s mission and philosophy complement the theoretical and practical approaches of the two university classes, namely, to “develop the interpretive frameworks and storytelling techniques for a digital exhibition while reflecting critically on a series of concepts and their histories: globalization, immigration, multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, diversity, mobility, and many others.” A strong alliance developed around this core mission between the faculty leads and TWM’s founder, Gracia Dyer Jalea. They attribute the success of their co-management of the “Pathways” project to their shared critical perspectives as well as to continuous and amicable communication.

The project faced some challenges. Its timeline was constrained by the framework of the university semester. Each course benefitted from a project management approach on the part of faculty. Staying on track meant sticking to a workback schedule built around coursework; faculty, staff, and the TWM shared work online (email and Google Drive) and communicated over conference calls and in-person meetings. The TWM partners visited the classroom to hear student presentations and provide feedback at the beginning, middle, and end of the term. The project leadership described seamless communication at the planning level; at the same time, some students reported wanting more in-class consultation with their TWM partners and a more concrete vision of the final format and design of the exhibit. As with many creative experiments, the final form emerged from their work.

“Pathways to Toronto” was a successful pilot project. The hard work and creativity of the students is at the centre of this success. In post-project interviews, the leadership also highlighted the contributions of specialists and support staff. This project benefited greatly from the expertise and labour of the Digital Scholarship Unit at the University of Toronto Scarborough, notably Lydia Zvyagintseva, Digital Scholarship Librarian for the Humanities, and Deputy Chief Librarian Sarah Forbes. Lydia worked with Professor Gabaccia in the design and instruction of “Digital History” and was central to the execution of this first phase of the project. Sarah Hamdi, Digital Communications expert for the TWM, likewise played a pivotal role in the second phase of the project; she acted as consultant, designer, and technical lead for the final online exhibit. The project team also included Stephanie Cavanaugh, first hired as a research assistant (Digital History Curricular Enhancement and Assessment project at UTSC) and subsequently engaged by the TWM as Historical Research Consultant for the exhibit. In addition to the work of the students, professors and institutional partners, a project of this scope requires project management and administration, design and technical support, research assistance, consultancy, marketing and communication.

In the final evaluation process, the professors, students, specialists, and partners at the TWM shared their recommendations for best practices in university-museum collaborations:

  • Establish a clear mission, audience, and format. What does the host (museum, cultural institution) expect from the final student project? Do these expectations mirror the course requirements, or will subsequent work be required to ready the final project?
  • Get funding. Apply for classroom grants to bring on support staff, who are invaluable as teachers, consultants, and experts in their respective fields; these include librarians, digital experts, research assistants, information specialists, project managers, designers, etc.
  • Do essential paperwork early. Secure complete and signed consent forms, confidentiality and copyright license agreements at the beginning of the project. Record and share contact information for all participants.
  • Set clear roles and expectations for all participants before any coursework begins. Will the students do primary research? Conduct interviews? Use digital tools? Act as interpreters and curators? Do they have a say in the final layout and design?
  • Schedule check-in points at the beginning, middle, and before the end of the project timeline. Agree on the parameters of communication between all parties. Have a clear consultation process between partners.
  • Establish working definitions of key concepts and terminologies, especially in interdisciplinary partnerships. Professional and theoretical vocabularies differ between academic fields, and are not always familiar to public audiences.
  • Record the process. Keep notes and conduct periodic evaluations with all participants (we used Google Forms). This is important for communication between partners, creates a shareable archive of the process for your colleagues and community, and may be useful in applying and reporting to funding institutions.

BIO

Stephanie M Cavanaugh Profile Photo

Stephanie M. Cavanaugh is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Early Modern Conversions project at McGill University’s Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas. Her primary research focuses on religious conversion, migration, and the formation of identities in the sixteenth-century Spanish world. Stephanie earned her PhD and MA degrees in History from the University of Toronto and a BA in History and English from the University of New Brunswick, in her hometown of Fredericton.


 

 

 

Toronto museum of migration set to launch this Summer

The Toronto Ward Museum is a museum without walls dedicated to telling Toronto’s migration history through the life stories of migrants to the area. Using the city as its canvas and through interactive and event based programming, the Museum invites audiences to engage with stories of migration from Toronto’s past. Through its programming it asks audiences to connect these stories, not only to their own personal history, but to current day issues affecting newcomer communities today.

Focusing on personal narratives, the Museum seeks to build bridges between individuals, communities and generations by reflecting on the shared experiences that has motivated migration to Toronto, while also acknowledging how these lived experiences have and continue to shape the city.

Recognizing that the stories and voices of marginalized communities are seldom privileged and are often underrepresented in institutions dedicated to sharing this history, the Museum strives to create inclusive spaces and opportunities that enable individuals from across the city to share their stories and to have those stories heard, valued and seen as being vital to our understanding of Toronto’s history.

By partnering and collaborating with the Museum, individuals are supported in their efforts to share their stories with the public and are invited to co-develop and deliver the Museum’s programming.

Partnering with institutions like Pier 21 has been vitally important to our growth and development as an organization. In the past two years we have learned a great deal from our partners who come from over four different sectors: heritage, arts and culture, academia, advocacy and settlement. Quite simply put we cannot have accomplished what we have done in the past year without their generosity, guidance and support.  Since our inception, we have benefited greatly from the diverse sectors, communities and voices engaged in our work.

This year, we’re pleased to announce that we are set to launch our first set of programs, which include:

  • Pathways to Toronto (Launch: May 2016), an interactive online exhibition that explores the various factors that have influenced migration to Toronto over the past two centuries. Through the life stories of six individuals the exhibit invites the viewer to contemplate the motivations, journey and settlement of newcomers to the area and asks them to consider the role that policy, community and multiculturalism have played in helping to establish Toronto as one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. The exhibit was co-produced by undergraduate students from Historical and Cultural Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough and graduate students at the University of Toronto’s iSchool Museum Studies program.
  • Dishing Up Toronto (June 22-25, 2016), a series of food and storytelling tours set to launch in June. In collaboration with Culinaria from the University of Toronto Scarborough and Heritage Toronto, Dishing Up Toronto is a series of food tours that will take audience members to pockets of the city that will be introduced through the life stories of local residents who have developed and who will lead the tours. Dishes selected by local residents will help bring their migration stories to life and will function as a point of departure for sharing and critical reflection around questions of identity, migration, home, citizenship and belonging.

And much more!

Through food, art and digital media we hope to engage diverse audiences from across the city, making this history both accessible and exciting.

To learn more about the Museum, our partners, and our programming, please visit: www.wardmuseum.ca

BIO

Gracia Dyer Jalea is a co-founder of the Toronto Ward Museum. For the past 9 years she has worked as an educator, fundraiser and arts and culture professional. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Cultural Studies and World Religions from McGill University and a Master of Arts degree in Media Studies from Concordia University. Traveling is her passion. She has travelled to over 28 countries across 5 different continents, and as a self professed Trekkie cannot wait for a time when she can travel among the stars.