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Community Gathering Notes


Date: Friday, February 4, 2022.

Gathering Start: 1:00 PM.

Gathering End: 3:30 PM.

In the Circle: Eight people in the Zoom room total, including Gathering host, Co-Conveners, and ArtsBuild Ontario (ABO).



The Toronto Community Gathering took place on Friday, February 4, 2022 with eight individuals over Zoom. Gathering host Rose C. Stella offered a warm welcome to everyone. Four individuals were members of Toronto-based Indigenous artists and arts groups. Elder Whabagoon opened the circle to begin the conversation, introducing herself and touching on her work in the arts in Toronto. The floor was then opened for everyone to introduce themselves, moving around the circle.

Highlights from introductions


The circle included arts managers and community members across different organizations such as Native Earth Performing Arts, Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre, and the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance (IPAA). Each person in the circle spoke passionately to the work their organizations do in Toronto as well as on a provincial and international level. They were especially excited to speak about Indigenous creative spaces in the city.

The need to access space


The conversation began with Rose speaking to the Centre for Indigenous Theatre’s (CIT) experiences working in creative spaces such as the Native Canadian Centre for Toronto (NCCT) and Native Earth’s Aki Studio. CIT has also brought students to Aanmitaagzi in North Bay to learn on the land. This grew into a conversation around what is needed in Indigenous creative spaces.

Highlights from discussion


Community members, and especially Elders, must have the opportunity to better access spaces. NCCT and Aki Studio, for example, can be accessed by subway transit.


A space should be led with the intent of being financially affordable to the community. Leadership changes can affect how the is accessed (ie. it could be more difficult to rent the space, for example).


There is a need for Elders and youth to have access to arts-based programming in a virtual space as well, given the current pandemic climate. The Circle noted a recent initiative with Toronto Council Fire, where funding was given so that iPhones and more stable internet connections were given to Elders and youth who work closely with the organization. There is a need for current/better work tools.


The circle spoke to an idea for a creative cultural centre of performing arts organizations in Toronto, allowing each of these organizations to be more conveniently accessed in one location to the community. This was an idea that CIT was involved in previously, envisioning that a new arts centre would be built in the Lakeshore area.


The conversation highlighted that Toronto has Indigenous spaces with national mandates.

Indigenous creative and cultural spaces in development


The circle took the time to speak to several Indigenous spaces in development, as well as outdoor spaces that could be accessed by Indigenous arts organizations. There a need for more outdoor spaces in urban areas, such as Toronto.

Highlights from discussion


Toronto Council Fire is currently developing the Spirit Garden, an Indigenous cultural space to open in Nathan Phillips Square by 2024. The space will honor Indigenous cultural traditions and survivors of residential schools, with plans to host activities such as performances by Indigenous cultural presenters. This cultural space will include paintings, sculpture, gathering space, and more.

Anishinawbe Health Toronto has purchased land to develop a building which will be their new permanent home, with programming focused in health care.

The circle also spoke to Indigenous healing spaces that benefited the Toronto communities in many ways when they were operating, but have unfortunately since closed down. The closing of OAC’s Indigenous Culture Fund program has had an impact on the sustainability of Indigenous creative spaces.

The circle spoke to the importance of students learning on the land as well as allowing more open space for Indigenous artists to perform. Native Child and Family Services of Toronto was one example of an Indigenous organization with outdoor space that can be accessed by community.

Organizational partnerships and the impact of COVID-19


Discussion shifted to the work being done by CIT and partnering Indigenous organizations, as well as how COVID has affected activities/artists.

Highlights from discussion


CIT works closely with Native Earth, and the students use Aki Studio in-person where possible. Due to pandemic restrictions, CIT has been forced to take their classes primarily online. They have been able to use Aki Studio and livestream shows where possible. This has opened up different areas and methods of training. CIT is also currently in talks with Tarragon Theatre, a non-Indigenous theatre organization interested in partnering and offering space to CIT students. 

A question was raised around how COVID is impacting artists touring internationally and working closely with organizations represented in the circle. Interestingly, COVID has provided many benefits to international touring opportunities: IPAA noted that the pandemic has provided more space for artists to plan, and that everyone is able to get together virtually more easily across different time zones. Virtual performances have received positive feedback, in IPAA’s experience, and given more exposure to artists, events, and gatherings.

The needs of Indigenous arts organizations moving forward


In speaking to Indigenous arts organizations and spaces working with CIT, the conversation began to look at the needs of these spaces and organizations.

Highlights from discussion


Native Earth feels that their ambitions are growing faster than their actions, and CIT feels similarly that this is an issue that must be addressed to better serve community. The circle agreed that part of this problem is rooted in Human Resource issues, ie. a significant lack of staffing. More resources to support Indigenous arts and cultural organizations must be made available.

Native Earth is interested in pursuing mentorship methods with CIT to ensure that students transition more seamlessly from school to their professional careers in the performing arts.

A suggestion was made for CIT to create its own ensemble company as a new way to expand a repertoire of Indigenous professionals through a working relationship with Native Earth.

Another suggestion was made for a company like Native Earth to host performing arts training internships, but there is a need for increased funding to achieve this vision. The circle explored funding opportunities, outside of government funding, to address this gap.



Everyone in the circle was grateful to come together and speak to the current Toronto landscape of Indigenous creative spaces, what is needed for Indigenous artists and arts groups, and what organizational planning must be done with regards to developing creative spaces and in training Indigenous artists to occupy creative spaces sustainably.

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