Community Gathering Circle
On Friday, February 4, 2022, individuals came together in a virtual space to listen, learn, and share thoughts and feelings around the needs of Indigenous artists and communities in relation to creative space in Toronto. Hosted over Zoom by Rose C. Stella, Principal and Artistic Director of the Centre for Indigenous Theatre (CIT), the Circle included Indigenous multi-disciplinary artists and arts administrators from Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre, Native Earth for the Performing Arts, the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance, and the Daniels Faculty at the University of Toronto.
About the Centre for Indigenous Theatre
The Centre for Indigenous Theatre (CIT) is a Toronto-based performing arts training school that offers three and four-year post-secondary education opportunities for young artists. Rooted in Indigenous teachings and knowledge, the school provides specialized training in movement, voice, and acting, as well as classes in Indigenous cultural songs, dance, and oral history. CIT is located in Artscape Youngplace.
CIT’s existence is significantly impactful as one of the few Indigenous institutions across Ontario providing training to artists in the performing arts.
What is needed for future Indigenous creative spaces
Rose opened the conversation for the Gathering Circle to speak to sovereign Indigenous creative spaces, as well as settler creative spaces occupied by Indigenous arts organizations in Toronto. The Circle spoke to the current landscape of Indigenous creative spaces in Toronto, along with the need for increased access to existing spaces, more outdoor spaces in the city, and support for organizations to develop more spaces.
Accessing creative spaces
Elders and community members must have better access to Indigenous creative spaces. Before CIT managed their own space, they used the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, which was located close to public transits and allowed for easy access for Elders and the community.
Access to virtual creative spaces was also identified as a priority in the Community Gathering. It is difficult to engage with Elders with poor internet connection: increased knowledge for Elders around access to digital spaces has the potential to broaden community and connections, and increased Elder participation in virtual programs.
The landscape of Indigenous spaces and visions
There are many Indigenous organization in Toronto, and the Gathering Circle noted several sovereign Indigenous creative spaces in development. These include a new facility for the Anishnawbe Health Foundation, and the Spirit Garden. Matthew Hickey, a partner of Two Row Architect, is leading the design of the new building for the Anishinawbe Health Foundation. The Spirit Garden is project led by the Toronto Council Fire will also be completed in 2023, and it will be a 19,250 square foot Indigenous cultural space, located in Nathan Phillips Square, to honour Residential School Survivors and cultural traditions. At one time, CIT also considered developing a multidisciplinary hub space in the Lakeshore area for many Toronto-based performing arts organizations to operate out of one location.
In the current landscape, there is a need for more outdoor space for Indigenous artists. In this environment, students can learn and create in an outdoor space, and be connected to the land in their work. Being in an urban location, it can be difficult to secure outdoor space for Indigenous artists and organizations. Native Child and Family Services of Toronto is one organization that has large outdoor space for organizations to use, but the Circle affirmed that more dedicated natural space for Indigenous organizations is needed.
A need for partnerships and support
Ambitions and demands are growing fast for Indigenous organizations, but this growth opportunity for growth is stunted by limited capacity and funding. CIT sees the demand to expand its arts training programs in Toronto, with a focus on students transitioning from training to establishing their careers in the arts. To encourage organizational growth, support for new spaces and increased organization capacity is needed through public funds and community partnerships. For example, Native Earth is closely partnered with CIT and ensures that their performance space, Aki Studio, is available to CIT students for performances and/or rehearsals.
Through partnerships, organizations can reach international audiences virtually. Digital submissions and virtual performances allow Indigenous artists to connect across the world.