Rooted in Regent Park, Open to the World

by Jini Stolk

Donna Walker-Kuhne, one of North America’s foremost writers and practitioners on diversifying audiences, recently met with eleven new and long standing arts organizations clustered around Regent Park. This was the final workshop of Creative Trust’s 3-year Audiences Project, and Donna made it special. She inspired us all to pursue the creative and collaborative opportunities around this major new development – which is truly remaking and re-imagining its neighbourhood.

Making Regent Park into Toronto’s centre for diversity in the arts is a realistic and very exciting vision. Donna even provided the branding (“Rooted in Regent Park, Open to the World”) to attendees from the Regent Park Cultural Centre and the Centre for Social Innovation at Regent Park, and companies including COBA – Collective of Black Artists
, Native Earth Performing Arts, Regent Park Film Festival (soon to be resident at the Cultural Centre) and Parliament Street’s Toronto Dance Theatre, Coleman Lemieux and Compagnie, Centre for Community Learning and Development as well as Neighbourhood Arts Network.

The challenge and opportunity is in making Regent Park area arts organizations truly open, accessible and welcoming to their neighbourhood and beyond. This needs an overarching vision that each company can embrace, which helps move everyone’s efforts from competitive to collaborative. Donna suggested that the group form a Task Force, working together to create an overall marketing plan, do market research, mine the group’s contacts, and be ambassadors into the neighbourhood and its diverse communities.

As always Donna prescribed unwavering commitment, unrelenting vision, solid research, a long term perspective, and an openness to investment and discovery. She believes in marketing plans, carefully nourished relationships, press and promotion, generous use of social media (involving local youth) and a focus on cultural tourism. Real estate and other neighbourhood businesses will be natural partners. She urged people to grasp the opportunities now – Regent Park and its Cultural Centre won’t be new forever – but to temper expectations. These things take time.

Finally, tell the story. Really, truly: does another place like this exist in the world? And celebrate!

Area companies will soon be joined by many others who are booking the Regent Park Cultural Centre for performances. Among them are Ravi Jain’s Why Not Theatre – natural and enthusiastic collaborators on the new vision – which is bringing Dear Liar and Ismat Apa Ke Naan to the Centre in September and October.

I can see that we’ll all be heading to Regent Park and Parliament much more often than ever before.

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