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Introducing our first official “blog post”. Stay tuned for more to come!

We wrote this post collaboratively from our makeshift, quarantine, at-home office spaces, likely with our sweatpants on, and our hair up in a messy bun and/or washed and scruffy. Welcome to our very first official “Blog Post”. This has been something that we’ve wanted to do for a while, and with the ongoing pandemic and it not looking like we’ll be back to St. Matthew’s Clubhouse anytime soon, we thought now was the perfect time to launch this initiative!

Like many of you, COVID-19 has changed our daily and weekly workflows substantially. Who knew that Google Drive, Slack & Asana would become our new best friends, and that we’d all become master facilitators in the art of Zoom? On a serious note, the EEA team is loving all of the time with our pets at home, but we miss our communities and we miss the in-person conversations and experiences with our artists and community members. We’ve had to do a lot of pivoting to figure out how we can continue serving our communities in a distanced and digital way; there have been many challenges and rewards to this whole “working from home” experience, and we’re still learning! Scroll down to get the inside scoop from the EEA Desk of Adam, our Program Coordinator, Chelsea, our Communications & Development Coordinator, and Shana, our Executive Director. We’ve also welcomed on a new intern, Rishit, who is playing a big part in helping to push this new blog along. Enjoy!

Report from Adam’s At-Home Desk (Program Coordinator)

“One of the hardest things about this time, for me as a programmer and as an artist, is the speed at which ideas come to mind. Some days, it’s like standing inside a whirlwind, others more like quicksand.

One of the first “whirlwind ideas” was The Toronto Mycelial Network. I was feeling sad and disconnected from people (I live alone), and wanting some kind of playful meditation that could remind me of the strong connections I have. And simultaneously in conversation with one of the artists that EEA works with, for a completely unrelated reason, we talked about making mushrooms for no reason other than that mushrooms are cool. And the idea clicked, and I knew how I wanted to connect to people. And what’s been so exciting is seeing how many other people want to connect on our Invisible Network too. Working with all the other LASOs to reach the entire breadth of this amazing city has been – like so many things – unprecedented. And seeing the creativity and enthusiasm of my peers is a real inspiration. I love ideas like this that form a framework, and let communities fill in the spaces however they choose. I hope we make a thousand mushrooms, or more.

Another incredibly inspiring project has been working to create Food 4 Thought, a weekly series of “Creative Prompts” designed for local seniors experiencing food insecurity. Not only is it work that feels good, but it’s been a wonderful opportunity to get to know Christine Walker, a local artist who is so talented and so professional. The idea kind of came from my own kitchen – I keep a bit of nostalgic art from my own elders beside the stove, to remind me that I’m always cooking with my mother and my grandmother. And so when Applegrove approached us asking for help creating an arts program for seniors, I had another “whirlwind idea.”

Of course, harder than the whirlwind ideas have been the quicksand ones. Cancelling events, or shifting to digital versions, is something I dread. Moving BYOBeads online was easy because that program was always about casual conversation and not presentation, but it’s a challenge to think of a way to take something like ArtMEETS in that direction when I know the real strength of ArtMEETS is the chance to meet in person. Instead of a “digital ArtMEETS” – after plenty of research and rumination – we’ve decided to delay that program to Autumn and hope things are safer and more flexible for IRL gatherings by then. In the meantime, we will be sharing some great online activities created by others for you to enjoy.

East York Days, our summer music series, will be moving online, with a format to be determined. Music is such a powerful way to feel connected, and I know we will miss dancing outside on the square in front of East York Civic Centre together this summer. Hopefully the magic of technology will at least let us dance in our kitchens together! Stay tuned for more details, and be patient while the quicksand ideas happen.

What I am learning is that there is still power in working with communities to celebrate the arts in east Toronto. And it’s been an inspiration to see so many grassroots arts activities pop up in my neighbourhood, and all over the east end. Between the quicksands and the whirlwinds, I am learning when to have fast ideas and when to have slow ones. We don’t know yet if our programming will need to shift to become more online, but we are happy to work in so many vibrant communities who are using art to celebrate and bring joy to such a difficult time.”

Report from Chelsea’s At-Home Desk (Communications & Development Coordinator)

“I can remember back in February when this virus just seemed like something that was happening overseas; it was a mere few minutes of news coverage on the TV. While at first I thought we’d be back in the office by June, nothing is certain for the foreseeable future. It feels like we’re all living in this odd limbo state, living day to day, with no concrete idea of what tomorrow will hold. This can be frustrating, but it can also be lovely. So many aspects of my professional and personal life have changed drastically, some things for the better and other things not; however, I’ve been focusing on the positives, like the ways I’ve developed a healthier home life, and how I feel more connected and inspired by our online communities than I ever have before.

In my personal life I’m finding that without the normal commute I have more time for exercising and relaxing. I spend a great deal of time walking my dog at High Park or other open green spaces; I’ve started a balcony garden (finally) and I’m finding so much joy in watching my bean shoots grow each day; plus I’m also sleeping more than ever, which is a big bonus when you’re a snoozer like me (I love sleeping). In my professional life I’m finding that I’m being challenged consistently, and learning something new daily.

Come this October I will have been with East End Arts for 2 years (yay!), and while I’ve learned A TON about communicating with our east Toronto communities and building the East End Arts brand, I don’t think anything could have adequately prepared me for the past couple of months. I’m not a big fan of last minute deadlines (ask the team, they will tell you…), and the number of last minute pivots, spontaneous cancelled events and programs, and quick news announcements, digital resources, listings and campaigns that I’ve thrown together from March until now has been nuts! I’m sure any communicator on any team feels the same right now – there has been so much we’ve needed and wanted to say and share, so yes, I’ve been busy!

This is our new Intern Rishit. Hi Rishit!!

All the busyness aside, I’m super proud of the direction we’ve taken as a team – a direction that I believe has been thorough, thought-out and responsive in creative ways. The programming shift from Adam’s side has been spectacular, Shana is working on such important advocacy work for our sector as a whole, and I’ve really worked to hone my focus on serving our arts communities in whatever way I can through our digital channels. For example, in April I decided to increase our monthly artist spotlight feature to an entire series of artists and arts organizations instead. Initially I thought it would be an experiment, but the feedback I’ve gotten from the spotlight artists themselves and community members across our catchment is a resounding YES, we love it! So, I’ve decided this will be the new normal. In addition, our newsletter continues to grow and shift each month, we’re developing new, exciting digital tools (like this blog!), and we’ve also welcomed our newest Communications Intern, Rishit from Humber College, who is an ginormous help to me and the team right now!

Many of the changes I’ve implemented came from the feedback we got in our 2020 Arts Survey. For instance, based on survey suggestions I’ve revamped our Artist Opportunities Facebook Group, and I’ve shifted our online strategies and social media content. Speaking of social media, each day I continue to be amazed by all the ways community members in east Toronto and beyond are using art to come together and inspire and support each other. It’s really a beautiful thing! Thomas Bollmann’s photo project titled ‘Picture Window’, or ‘Together Even When We’re Apart!’ by Partial Gallery and Labour of Love are perfect examples of what I’m talking about, and I very much hope that we continue to creatively connect as communities like this, even after COVID-19.

And so yes, while our summer is definitely going to look quite different this year, and we won’t get to spend as much time with our amazing communities at St. Matthew’s Clubhouse, I’m still very excited by what we’re currently doing and offering, and by the many things that are yet to come. Stay tuned, and stay safe and well (and don’t ever hesitate to reach out!)”

Report from Shana’s At-Home Desk (Executive Director)

“We are now in the 12th week of a global pandemic. We’ve had to vastly change the way we work and there is uncertainty as to when, if ever, things will get “back to normal”. There have been some nice moments, I’m cooking more than ever, I get to spend a lot of time with my dog (@captainpudgerton) and less time on the TTC. I’m privileged to have my health, job security and the ability to care for those I love.

At the beginning of the pandemic watching other (larger) organizations rush to convert programs to the digital space I had a lot of anxiety that we weren’t doing so as quickly. In amongst the logistics of closing the building, postponing and cancelling programming and rentals we needed to figure out how we’d even do this work (so much of which is done boots on the ground in the community) from home.

I realized part of my anxiety (aside from my general fear of new technology) was coming from the fact that I wanted our response to be well thought out and meaningful. Through the global nature of the internet, anyone with wifi can take a dance class with the Alvin Ailey Company, do illustrations with renowned picture book author Mo Willems, or even tour the galleries at the Louvre. How could East End Arts compete with that? When we are planning programming one of the things we always ask ourselves is “can someone else do it better?”. Clearly the Louvre we’re not.

Ultimately we wanted any new programming to focus on the health and well-being of our communities and use art as a tool to connect, empower and inspire people.

We started by identifying groups that were struggling and then looked for opportunities to partner and serve those communities. We looked at who might need us most in the pandemic: seniors, Indigenous folks and those living with lower incomes and precarious employment. We knew people would grappling with social isolation and economic stress.

We then looked at the skills and assets we could bring to the table (we don’t have a lot of money but we have people power, boundless ideas and a pretty great rolodex!) and then checked in with our community partners to see if there could be synergies. We might have been slower out of the gate but I’m so pleased with the programs that have emerged – they are unique and filling gaps in our community. And as a bonus we get to work with amazing partners like Applegrove Community Complex, the Glen Rhodes Food Hub, TCHC and our amazing Indigenous beading circle lead by Adam Garnet Jones.

We’ve also been in discussions with many of local BIAs about creating arts-based economic recovery plans for our beautiful neighbourhoods and hope to have some exciting announcements later this summer.

I personally have been working since the beginning on advocacy. Fielding calls from artists and organizations in the catchment (Chelsea put together our COVID resources page in record time!) and taking that feedback back to our elected officials. What was so heartening was the openness in which they took that feedback and really listened. Changes were quickly made to make sure artists and freelancers could more easily access CERB, the eligibility for wage subsidies for organizations was changed to reflect how nonprofit revenue cycles actually work. We’re certainly not alone in this work. Kudos to the many other service organizations, arts councils and organizations who we see on Zoom screens!

This pandemic is like nothing we’ve seen before. By its nature there will not be a big concert at the end. We’re not even sure when folks will feel comfortable attending big indoor events again and this is why we know Community Arts are more important than ever.

We see Community Arts’ role in recovery by continuing to strengthen community through public art (beautifying neighbourhoods, increasing neighbourhood pride), arts education (teaching new skills, helping build confidence, connecting people) and finally when the time is right, by supporting small gatherings that focus on celebration and storytelling.

To that end we’re also working with our sister LASOs to ensure that Community Arts is at the table in the City of Toronto’s Recovery plan (especially as it pertains to building Strong Neighbourhoods and insuring closing equity gaps outside the core), and that folks at the province and federal level understand that Community Arts can be a tool for them too. And so, we’ve partnered with our sister LASOs and other rockstars of the Community Arts milieu to create the Community Arts Canopy and will host a Community Arts Townhall on June 25th. There we’ll gather and share their successes and challenges and to continue building our community of practice.

Since the very beginning, East End Arts has focused on creating opportunities for everyday people to become creators and storytellers. We believe this work is now more crucial than ever. Not only giving community members the opportunity to tell their own personal stories through the arts, but providing opportunities for them to work with professional artists, neighbours and friends to tell the evolving story of east Toronto during this specific time in history.”

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