I recently took my son, Kahzmir, to Alexmuir Park where the Toronto Arts Foundation brought Shadowland Theatre to the park as part of their Arts in the Parks program. Shadowland was presenting ‘The Spirit of Our Park:’ a week of workshops with music, puppet-making, performers and aboriginal teachings–all culminating in a final glorious parade.
I was there representing Park People (we helped guide the project and connected The Toronto Arts Foundation to underserved park groups in our network), but mostly I was also there as a mom.
While I was busy chatting with Shawn, Shadowland’s fabric designer, my 10 year old son, who is normally quite shy, started becoming curious about a pair of stilts.
The next time I looked over,Kahzmir was proudly stilt walking on his own, around the park. He refused to take the stilts off until we finally headed home.
Kahzmir was hooked. As luck would have it, I hadn’t signed him up for any camps that week, so every day my in-laws and son headed to Alexmuir Park to practice stilt walking. Kahzmir improved at a rapid pace, eventually jumping, crouching and kicking a ball.
Shadowland Theatre ended the week with a phenomenal parade to celebrate the park. Kahzmir was a Blue Jay, proudly circling the park in his homemade costume.
I learned several lessons about parks and from watching my son strut around on stilts. Here are a few:
1. Parks are Canvases:
We all know parks are places where soccer, monkey bars, and picnics happen. But when a whimsical parade marches through your park, it serves as a reminder that parks are places where anything can happen (well, most anything.). All it takes is an idea, some people and a park to create a circus big top, a stage or a festival. Parks are canvases that communities can paint on.
2. Park pride is Contagious:
My son’s pride not only came from learning to stilt walk. Kahzmir was also proud of his community and his park for being part of something utterly magical. That pride spread to the parents who ran with backpacks slung over their shoulders to catch the parade they’d heard about all week. Pride is what it takes to make parks the heart of communities. When it comes to pride, a little goes a long way toward transforming a patch of grass into a valued community gathering place
3. Community Groups set the Stage:
Right from our first meeting with Rosewood Taxpayers Association, it was clear that like our Park Friends Groups, good community groups see possibilities where others might see challenges. When Shadowland said they needed storage for their items each evening, the Association’s VP, Alura raised her hand and said she’d have no problem sharing her garage for the week. Alura may not have been one of the performers, but the show couldn’t have gone on without her.
4. Pokemon Go isn’t The Only Game in Town:
Yes, it’s great that Pokemon Go is getting people off their couches and into public spaces, but Arts in the Parks does the same thing without a digital interface. My son was eager to rush out to the local park every morning because he was learning a new skill, meeting new people and working toward a goal. Sorry, but Pokemon’s got nothing on that!
This initiative is part of Park People’s Sparking Change Program, which works to create green community hubs in underserved neighbourhoods. It is made possible with generous support from TD Bank Group, The John and Marion Taylor Family Fund, City of Toronto, Cultural Hotspot, Toronto StreetArt, Toronto Arts Foundation, Toronto Community Housing and Ontario Trillium Foundation.