I could tell you about the TAG Café, a café and a beacon that uses food and music to bring people and vibrant culture to Thorncliffe’s R.V Burgess park. I could also tell you about a community-build for the café that incorporated hand-woven panels of vibrant red, yellow, and orange fabric, creating a beautiful manifestation of a collaboration between Diasporic Genius, Thorncliffe Action Group (TAG) and ERA Architects, with funding from Park People’s TD Park Builder’s program. But instead, I’m going focus on something much more effusive–magic, and how it found it’s way into RV Burgess Park, and what we can learn to produce more magic in more community parks
Prioritize the Process:
“Artists know how to make something out of nothing,” says David Buchbinder, Artisitc Director of Diaporic Genius. David has applied an artist’s playful and open concept of creativity to the act of city building. When he first connected with Thorncliffe Park residents at a Creativity Centre in the East York Town Centre Mall, he trusted that they could access their own creative processes to reimagine a city that reflected their lived experiences. TAG members told their stories and engaged in mural-making, singing, drumming, dancing and crafts to bring those stories to life. The process of making and doing that was valued as an end in itself. There wasn’t an event in mind. There was just faith that a group of people could work together to create something that was theirs.
What TAG members know, their various lived experiences from their cultures of origin, are seen as rich and powerful sources of wisdom for reimagining Toronto’s public spaces. Cultural differences can be a source of conflict in creating park events. Diaporic Genius and TAG create connections across boundaries. This interculturality was made manifest in “cross-cultural” food featured at the TAG Café, but it started by valuing difference, right from the start. As Buchbinder says:
Toronto has the greatest population of diasporic peoples of any city; it is a microcosm of the world’s culture and wisdom. Now is the time to make the most of this unique gift, as we help reshape Toronto into a more liveable, engaged and connected city.
It’s the idea at the core of Diasporic Genius’ 21st Century Village Square framework which imagines new public spaces that embody and value the unique needs of different communities.
Listen More (and then more still)
What Diaporic Genius’ rootedness in storytelling really highlights is what it means to listen, and to feel heard. TAG members’ stories about conflict, celebrations, food ultimately led to the creation of the TAG Café and a Harvest Festival that welcomed 250 Thorncliffe Park residents to the park. But before all of that, it started with listening to the community. We know that parks best serve communities when community voices are built into for every stage of park and public space planning, design and programming. Diasporatic Genius’ collaboration with TAG demonstrates that really listening creates not just impactful, but magical results.