A city park can be a stage, and the community your audience: Bringing arts to parks

Resource | octobre 3, 2019

Performances offer some of the most interesting ways to engage with your community. But how do you build a good, collaborative relationship between artists and the community?

Performances offer some of the most interesting ways to engage with your community. But how do you build good, collaborative relationships between artists and the community?

We talked to three people who were directly involved in Arts in the Parks, an initiative of Toronto Arts Foundation, which brings free family-friendly arts events and activities to city parks: Hanbo Jia from Friends of Beverly Glen Park, Laura Hammond from Birchmount Community Action Council and Adam Barrett, from the renowned performing arts group, Shadowland Theatre. Here’s what we learned.

  1. Take the time to connect

    A city park can be a stage, and the community your audience, but only if you make deliberate efforts to foster deep connections between artists and the community. It takes time for these efforts to materialize, so be patient:

    Hanbo Jia, from the Friends of Beverly Glen underscores this when she says: “Take the time to build trust with the community”.

    Like  all good relationships, artists and communities need to build trust over time.

    If you’re an artist, it’s best to initially put your artistic medium aside at the start of relationship building and give your full attention to connecting with the community. It’s the same strategy we know works in establishing new community park groups. Attend lots of community events and meetings, know the landscape, listen to the voices and become a familiar presence in the community and authentically connect. Even though it may be time-consuming, we promise it will save you time and make a huge difference in the long run.

    Also, it’s ideal for the same park and community group to work together more than once. This helps the relationship and the audience to build over time. It also helps the groups learn what works, and what doesn't. 

    This sentiment is shared  by Adam of Shadowland Theatre, who says: “Be slow, be patient, come back, don't show up just once.”

    Shadowland Theater admits that they drew small crowds their first season at Alexmuir park. However, this year, their third year in the park, they had more than 300 people attend their park-based performances. 

  2. Let the community guide you

    “Don’t make the event for the artists. Make it for the community,” says Hanbo from Friends of Beverly Glen.

    Here’s some advice to get you started on how to make your event for the community. 

    First, identify local artists and organizations that know the artistic community in and around the park and work with them to identify local talent.

    Laura Hammond Birchmount Community Action Council emphasizes the importance of providing renumeration to artists: “Be sure to pay local artists for their time to show that you value their contribution to your event.”

    Consider creative ways to identify local talent. For example, Allison Adley from the Art Gallery of York University created an artists residency in Edgeley Park and invited local youth and professional artists to collaborate on three songs. The artists' residency lasted over a month and helped local community members hone their talents by working with professional artists.The results were incredible. 


  3. It's critical to work with the community to find out key details that will make the performance a success. Be sure to ask  for practical advice such as: 

    • What is the best day and time for performances to be scheduled?
    • Is the park accessible by public transit? Is there parking?
    • Is the park wheelchair accessible?
    • Are there bathrooms in the park? 
    • If you need equipment for your performance, is there storage space you can access close to the park?
    • What is the ideal place in the park for the performance to take place?
    • Where's the best location for signage and advertising for the event?
    • Are there local volunteer groups that can help out?


  4. It's a wrap!

    Be sure to collect feedback about the event, both from the community and the artists. Asking some simple questions will help you refine your approach next time and let people know that you care about their experience of the performance. Toronto Arts Foundation Arts in the Parks Toolkit  has excellent resources to help you evaluate your project and distribute the results you can find it below.


    Now, go break a leg!