It’s been half a dozen years of talking policy, pushing, promoting and advocating for participatory and community-led art projects… and now returning to do it in a deeply integrated fashion myself. Apples and oranges. We understand and take into account the challenges in the abstract. But the dramatic, indeed risky nuances of working closely (or trying to work closely) with community members are something else to be lived.
Tuesday, I got off the bus in Thorncliffe (neighbourhood of Toronto densely populated with newcomers to Canada) feeling somewhat tired & withdrawn, muttering to myself, ‘I am far too emotionally unstable to be doing this kind of work.’ Four or five hours later, I was getting off the Bathurst bus downtown on my way home, feeling elated and full of love, muttering to myself, ‘What am I going to do when this is all over? I’m going to miss them so much.’
This is a picture of an illustration one of the community members made this week.* Exquisite work. What an eye for colour. (Fun fact: She named the character after me.)
Another participant read her story aloud to me. We sat in a corner while I recorded the reading. There was a long pause after she finished reading. Then she drew a deep breath and whispered, “That’s the first story I’ve ever written in my whole life.”
I’m looking forward to putting together a video about this storytelling project, which I am doing with artist Sharada K. Eswar, in conjunction with the parallel, massive kindergarten storytelling project that Theatre Direct is undertaking. Extraordinary people.
Thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for making this initiative possible.
*Based on Isabelle Arsenault’s artwork in Kyo Maclean’s children’s book, ‘Virginia Wolf’, in the style of Eric Carle (The Hungry Caterpillar).