As we wrap up 2020, East End Arts is taking a moment to reflect on what #EastEndLove means to us! We hope you enjoy this final blog post of 2020, and stay tuned for future blog posts in 2021!
#EastEndLove has been all around us as we’ve navigated our way through the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, it’s one of the key things that has helped us get through these challenging times. Like the #EastEndLove we’ve all shown local restaurants and businesses; or the #EastEndLove we’ve given our neighbours and those most in need; or the #EastEndLove we’ve sent to health care workers and frontline staff throughout it all. We hope you take some time this month to also reflect on what #EastEndLove means to you, and don’t forget to participate in our #EastEndLove 2.0 project by sharing the things you love most about East Toronto on social media! Learn more about that here.
For our last blog post of the year, the East End Arts staff team took some time to answer the question, “What does #EastEndLove mean to YOU?” Here is what staff members had to say to this question, in no particular order…
- Adam Barrett, Program Coordinator:
“Earlier this year, after the hate crimes that took place at a construction site in the neighbourhood, some local community organizers, including the folks at Old’s Cool General Store, mounted an incredible response: To counteract that hate crime, they invited community to safely respond as one voice and say “Not in my backyard” by covering the construction hoarding with messages of love and positivity. So I rode over on my bike, in the perfect sunshine of a Saturday in mid-June, to wheat-paste a few of our #EastEndLove posters onto an already overflowing wall of messages, each telling the victims of this crime that they were loved and wanted in our community, and that there was no room for the people who thought otherwise. One at a time, all day long, families had brought posters made by their children in support of Black Lives, and it filled my heart that there was so little room for me to add my voice to that message.
On my ride home, I took a shortcut through The Pocket, for no reason other than to see a different part of the neighbourhood. As I grinned on my bike with the wind in my face, I slowly began to notice that all the houses in the area had porches festooned with rainbows. Rainbow balloons and streamers and flags and it struck me that people were gathering on those porches with a sense of expectation. I rounded a corner on my bike, and all of a sudden I was at a small, socially distant, Pride Parade, complete with a classic car in every colour of the rainbow, a one man band, and more unicorn onesies than I’d ever imagined in one place. The residents association for The Pocket had pulled their community together to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community in this safe, small, beautiful, hyper-local way, when we weren’t able to gather for our usual parade. I will remember that parade when all the others have faded and blurred together into one.
For me, #EastEndLove means painting messages of joy on rocks, and leaving them in your front garden; it means arranging your Christmas lights in the shape of a heart in April, and leaving them up all summer long; it means pot-lid symphonies and neighbours coming together online in ways we never have before. It means shopping local, and community fridges, and encampment support. Even in the context of a deadly global pandemic and faced with fear, and hostility and in-fighting, and more fear, even with all of that and more our community found ways to show our love. We found ways to gather safely, and to lift each other up without hesitation, and without credit. We showed up for each other, we kept each other safe, and we still are now.
For me, #EastEndLove is you, my neighbours, and the incredible things you’ve done to bring beauty into this world this year when we badly need a little more beauty. It is a privilege to be able to work with you. Thank you, for an incredible year.”
- Shana Hillman, Executive Director
“I think we can safely say this has been a year like no other.
Thankfully, there is now hope on the horizon with the arrival of vaccines, but we continue to be mindful of the ways we all need to change and adjust in a new post-Covid world. The pandemic has clearly revealed staggering inequities and pre-existing flaws in many of our systems.
Being a leader, (which still shocks me that someone put me in charge), meant oftentimes having to keep a brave and optimistic face in 2020. Holding space and being a shoulder for our team, for our artists and arts organizations in our catchment who before CERB and CEWS and rent relief programs didn’t know how they were going to make payroll or pay their rent. It can be exhausting to have to be relentlessly upbeat while feeling like you just want to hide under a blanket.
I found solace in trusted members of our board executive and my network of fellow Local Arts Service Organization (LASO) Executive Directors who became alternating sounding boards and wailing walls.
I have already written about my early anxiety around not responding quickly enough, but ultimately was so happy and appreciative with the work that our tiny but mighty team turned out, and how we pivoted and responded to community needs in real and meaningful ways! I am so very lucky to work alongside Adam and Chelsea.
In addition to the pandemic, this year saw a lot of uncertainty and loss for me personally, navigating a family member battling cancer and the end of a 15 year marriage. Like any good Capricorn I shoved it down and channeled my energy into work.
#DestinationDanforth was an unplanned project for both East End Arts and the Danforth, it was originally planned to be rolled out in years to come but was fast tracked to 2020 to support local businesses, provide safe walking and cycling infrastructure, provide adequate room for physical distancing, all while beautifying the street amidst the pandemic.
Looking back now, #DestinationDanforth was a gift. Riding my bike safely across Danforth, checking in on artists and worksites, scouting walls, having in-person meetings in parks and squares, (albeit all outdoors and from 6 feet away), felt almost NORMAL for a hot second. #DestinationDanforth allowed me to fill my tank so I’d have the strength and energy I needed to enter into another lockdown.
To me, #DestinationDanforth has been FULL of #EastEndLove. Watching the reactions of our neighbours to the work being installed has been indescribable. In early September a group of artists were working on the former 7/11 at Danforth and Donlands. As part of the lead artist’s process, Elicser, he spends time in the community observing the people around him, and then those figures eventually wind up in his work. We were blessed with fantastic weather that extended summer into the fall (thanks Climate Change), so the group tended to start later in the afternoon so they wouldn’t be working in the hottest midday sun. It coincided with school letting out, afternoon prayers ending at the Mosque next door, and people coming home from work.
I watched kids on scooters interacting with the graffiti writers on the front of the building; a cluster of too-cool-for-school preteen boys who hung back across the street and watched the muralists work for over an hour; an elderly neighbour who had called the City multiple times to complain about the tagging and disrepair of the building who was just so delighted by the transformation; and perhaps most impactful a little girl in a pink headscarf with her dad and brothers coming home from school and seeing Elicser paint.
Thinking back to that sunny September day I’m reminded that while adding colour and joy to our public realm is sometimes reason enough how important it is when wanting to do real, authentic community engagement that there has to be opportunities for people have to see themselves and people like them represented in the work. And on that day a little girl and her dad recognized two familiar characters on the wall: themselves.”
- Chelsea Cameron-Fikis, Communications Manager
“I’m not originally from this city. In fact, in 2017 I left my hometown of Thunder Bay to pursue a new professional path, and within a year I fell in love with Toronto and decided it was where I wanted to stay. It’s hard to say what allured me the most to this place. Was it the buffet of restaurants from cultures all around the world; the live experiences of big league sports games and concerts; the giant playground of bars, arcades and patios to explore; or the immediate access to exceptional arts and culture via theatre, galleries, museums and so much more? The likely answer is, D) all of the above, so imagine my big surprise when March 2020 dropped anchor and essentially shut down all of these fantastic things that I was convinced made Toronto so great.
‘Great. Now what?’ I thought.
Rewind back to 2018 when I enthusiastically joined the East End Arts team. At the time, I was just a wee toddler in this city, still getting to know my way around the various neighbourhood pockets, and checking off boxes on my ‘Essential Toronto Experiences’ list (the list is still not complete!). I remember how excited I felt to begin working for East End Arts, and consequently really get to know a specific area of the city and further develop my own identity as a “true Torontonian”.
The concept of #EastEndLove was one I became instantly aware of. Funny enough, within my first two weeks of joining the EEA team, one of the tasks I was assigned was to meet Bareket Kezwer (the artist of the ‘Find The Love’ mural used in the banner image of this post) to take photos of her and her new east Toronto #EastEndLove mural. I quickly saw the pride that not only our arts organization took in promoting and spreading #EastEndLove all across our catchment, but also the pride that local councilors, local restaurants, and other local businesses throughout east Toronto had too! East Toronto was a pretty special and unique place, as I was slowly but surely figuring out for myself.
Today, I more clearly see that #EastEndLove has been a constant theme in the work that our organization has done and continues to do from the very beginning. Now I consider it one of our core values or pillars by which we create our programs, events and initiatives. After all, if our mission is to transform east Toronto communities through the arts, really what is more deeply transformational than love?
I can remember feeling so much #EastEndLove at the first ever Nuit Blanche East Danforth hub that WE presented and curated. Seeing the crowds of local families, groups of friends and colleagues, all coming out to experience an evening of art, surprise and magic on the Danforth is something I won’t ever forget, and I certainly found myself falling more and more in love with our east Toronto communities because of that night.
Fast forward back to 2020 when everything in the city shut down, including all of East End Arts’ in-person programs, (which was really all of our programs, because digital programs were barely a thing before), and I felt BUMMED. How would Toronto function as a city without all of the things that I thought made it so great, including in-person arts and culture events like the ones I help to present and promote at East End Arts?
As it turns out, and as I’ve learned particularly over this past year in an emotionally exhausting and physically-distanced pandemic, a big part of what makes Toronto and East Toronto so amazing is not just the restaurants, the bars, the arts and culture venues and events, but it’s the people, the communities and the neighbourhood spirit and love that really drives it all home (#EastEndLove)!
#EastEndLove for me has been about getting to know the people, places and reasons that make east Toronto what it is; it’s been about feeling at home in a community that has embraced me and the organization I work for with wide, open arms.
From front yard art pieces that promote inclusion and love by local artist Unicorn Shannon, to antiracist art pieces by local community members at Michael Garron Hospital, I think this is the year that really showed me what #EastEndLove is about, and how far east Torontonians are willing to go to show up for each other, support each other, and spread some love and joy to each other.
Perhaps it’s odd to say that after a year of working behind a screen at home I feel more connected to and inspired by our east Toronto communities now than I ever did before, but truly, this past year has been flooded with #EastEndLove all across east Toronto and beyond, and I’ve never felt so proud to work for an arts organization that is a part of this amazing community.”
- Top banner image is from the ‘Find the Love’ Mural by artist Bareket Kezwer, located on the side of the old Hollandaise Diner on Danforth Avenue.
- Image #2 is from the community display of solidarity outside Michael Garron Hospital this past summer.
- Image #3 is from Elicser Elliott’s ‘Giants of the Danforth’ Mural as part of #DestinationDanforth, located at 975 Danforth Avenue.
- Image #4 is again Bareket Kezwer in front of her ‘Find the Love’ Mural on Danforth Avenue.