Exploring the Practice of Community-Engaged Work
On May 31st, a group of thirty artists and arts administrators came together for PAONE’s second member-initiated conference of 2017.
Co-hosted by PAONE member Mixed Company Theatre, the conference became a platform for a highly interactive dialogue about the everyday challenges encountered in engaging communities.
Some of the key challenges that were identified and explored included:
- Unequal Access
- Resource Management and Allocation
- Community Needs Assessment
- Communication of Value
- Commitment to/by Communities and Audiences
- Privilege and Identity Recognition
The conference began by engaging participants in the use of Image Theatre or non-verbal modes of expression to step back and analyse these common roadblocks faced in community-engaged arts. Facilitated by Simon Malbogat and Swetha Ranganathan from Mixed Company Theatre, the vibrant discussions that followed began to reveal simple strategies to work with these challenges that we are not always able to uncover in day to day work in the arts sector. Participants talked about the importance of connecting resources, balancing power structures, opening doors and having honest conversations.
The second half of the conference was comprised of two case study discussions. The first one, led by Dallas Bergen from the Regent Park School of Music, focused on his growth and learning working with diverse communities, especially Syrian refugee children, in the context of an expanding organization. Second, Brandy Leary from Anandam Dancetheatre presented her Audience in Residence program that engages participants as co-creators, recognizing the active and disciplined practice of being an audience member.
Learn more about the facilitators from Mixed Company Theatre:
A computer engineer by training, Swetha Ranganathan discovered her passion to work with communities towards creating social change, in 2010 in India. After attaining a Masters degree in Social Entrepreneurship, she went on to co-found Apni Shala Foundation with the vision to enhance the Indian education system. Trained as a Theatre of the Oppressed facilitator, Swetha is passionate about facilitating participatory and collaborative learning and changing the way people and/or communities think about self-development and growth. She is the General Manager at MCT.
Simon Malbogat has been a key player in Canada’s popular theatre scene for over 30 years now. He has studied with some of the greatest contemporary popular theatre practitioners including Augusto Boal and blended Forum Theatre with the Sweet Medicine Teachings (SMT) of the Deer Tribe Metis Medicine Society for an innovative theatre and teaching approach. Simon has directed and acted in over 60 new Canadian works, many of which many are now seen as important benchmarks in the development of Canadian theatre. As MCT’s Artistic Director has worked extensively in engaging the community including street youth, children, seniors, educators, parents, mental health professionals and artists through Forum Theatre and the interactive arts approach. His vision has been to create positive social change through community-engaged theatre across a wide range of social themes including mental wellbeing, education, HIV awareness, diversity and inclusion, as well as relationships. Simon’s recent successful community-engaged productions have been Out of the Illusion (2015), Day on the Shore (2015), Shelf Life (2016), Spring Moon (2017).
Learn more about the case study presenters:
Dallas Bergen is an active singer, choral conductor and clinician from Toronto. Prior to settling in Toronto, Dallas received his Bachelor of Music in Secondary Education from the University of Victoria. He is a past member of The Canadian Chamber Choir and The Nathaniel Dett Chorale and appeared with the Elora Festival Singers for the 2008 festival choir. He is the founding member of Univox Choirs Toronto, a community choirs organization for young adults founded on the principles of relationship building, social responsibility and musical excellence. He is music director at First Unitarian Congregation. Dallas’ service to the choral extends to his work with Regent Park School of Music where he is the founding director of the Parkdale satellite choir, and co-director of Nai Syrian Children’s Choir. He recently completed nine years of service on the music committee of the Toronto Arts Council as juror and co-chair. Dallas strives to use his passion for choral music to foster empathy and human connection through the vulnerability of shared artistic expression.
Brandy Leary creates contemporary performances through the body: active as a dancer, choreographer, aerialist, writer, arts advocate, community cultivator, space maker, Artistic Director, educator and curator. Her performance works have been produced and performed in Canada, Europe, India, South Africa and the USA in theatres, urban environments, festivals, museums, art galleries and isolated landscapes. She founded Anandam Dancetheatre as an umbrella structure for her performance projects (www.anandam.ca) and is its Artistic Director. She is a founder and Co-Director of Collective Space (an alternative performance and rehearsal venue in Toronto’s west end), Founder and Co-Artistic Director of CCAFT (Contemporary Circus Arts Festival of Toronto), developer of Anandam’s Audience In Residence Program and curator/co-producer of the Body Brake dance series at Theatre Passe Muraille. She is a driving force in the evolution of contemporary circus practice in Toronto as a choreographer, performer, curator and festival director working from values of experimentation, discourse development, curiosity and collaboration.