As the Coronavirus restrictions gradually settled over my life in mid-March and my regular book club was put on hiatus, I found myself craving an arts-focused connection...\n\nAs the minutes tick towards 7pm, my computer is perched precariously on a stack of books while pages of discussion prompts lie on the desk underneath a dog-eared copy of our May book choice. The Facebook video interface is poised for recording; all I have to do now is hit the \u2018Go Live\u2019 button to begin our meeting. The 7pm MST beginning is late for some of our members in eastern Canada, but the promise of a satisfying deconstruction of our latest read is enough to pull people back to their devices at this hour. Once I begin the recording there is little preamble, I pause only to thank people for joining before I jump right into the discussion. After the requisite 40 second delay in the video feed, comments begin pouring in: a whole month\u2019s worth of observations scrolling down the screen.\n\nThere are two different kinds of book clubs. The first is an informal gathering of friends, eager to indulge in some libations and friendly gossip with some limited book talk thrown in. The second is a formal club with a regular meeting time, specific book choices voted on in advance and a discussion focused solely on the chosen reading material. Quite often the latter is made up of strangers, brought together over a love of the written word and a desire to meet like-minded people. Now, while in-person gatherings are on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, attention is shifting to online groups as an accessible and efficient way of connecting those with similar interests.\n\n![Anne leading a discussion during an Ivereadthis Online Book Club meeting.](assets\/National\/blog\/strangers-and-fiction\/img-1017-1_EkDI7C.jpeg){.overflow}\n\nAs the Coronavirus restrictions gradually settled over my life in mid-March and my regular book club was put on hiatus, I found myself craving an arts-focused connection. As a critic I\u2019m lucky enough to have books mailed directly to my home, so I invited fellow bookworms to join me in reading through my collection by starting the [Ivereadthis Online Book Club](https:\/\/\/groups\/ivereadthisonlinebookclub\/). The Club is a free and public Facebook group, connecting once a month over live video chats which allow for real-time discussion with an unlimited number of participants. As I write this our group includes over 200 members, but after only two meetings it is clear who will actively participate in our video chats and who is content to hover on the sidelines, popping in and out for book recommendations.\n\nFace-to-face interactions ensure a certain level of decorum is upheld while online discussions can easily devolve into bickering. As the group moderator I was mildly concerned that our conversations may become offensive, or worse, trolled by people looking to stir up pointless controversy. To avoid this, I decided our group would focus on works of fiction which allow people to voice opinions on issues external to their own lives, but relevant all the same. For example, character motivations are a frequent topic of discussion; why did someone act that way, were they justified in lashing out, what would you have done in the same situation? Criticizing the actions of a character tends to incite less controversy, keeping the tone of our discussions light and entertaining regardless of the dark subject matter the chosen books may address. \n\n![Photo courtesy of Vlada Karpovish.](assets\/National\/blog\/strangers-and-fiction\/vlada-karpovich_5ex6dE.jpeg){.pull}\n\nDespite the ease of voicing one\u2019s thoughts to strangers across the country in sweatpants, there are obvious downsides to staying solely online. Fran Kimmel, a writer and book club veteran points out: \u201cwhen online I might not try quite as hard to get my point across or to understand other people\u2019s points. There\u2019s the added layer of technology separating you from others, and all those emotional intelligence cues we get through body language are stripped away. But I\u2019m also hopeful that this is a learned skill, and the more we meet online, the better we\u2019ll become at sharing deeply.\u201d \n\nThe only distinguishing factor of each group member is their thumbnail-sized picture, so there is a distinct lack of background information to base judgements on. If someone voices an opinion that you vehemently disagree with at an in-person meeting, you are likely to fall back on their body language and tone of voice to help justify their comment. Online we can only go by a person\u2019s text-based contributions\u2014so although it seems easier to participate in a virtual chat, our words hold more weight than usual. Readers are especially aware of how important word choice can be, so thankfully our conversations have remained respectful and empathetic, even during disagreements. \n\nAs the organizer, my one question that looms above all others is the likelihood this club will continue. COVID-19 has not only shifted the way we currently interact with others, it has altered the way we imagine our future communications; the ease in which we have shifted our events online demonstrates this new way of meeting can continue even when moving restrictions have lifted. And even if the membership of the Ivereadthis Online Book Club slowly dwindles once life returns to normal, members now see the benefits to joining other public clubs like this in the future. One of the group\u2019s members, Jolena, confirms this newly discovered interest is one she\u2019ll continue with: \u201cI would join another book club, it was a great experience to be able to discuss a topic among peers.\u201d Knowing our members feel this way is incredibly validating\u2014the cultural richness of literature is a wonderful gift to share with others, especially with those you never would have met otherwise.\n\n![Photo courtesy of Parth Shah.](assets\/National\/blog\/strangers-and-fiction\/parth-shah_Kvywu1.jpeg){.overflow}\n\n\n\n**This article is part of a special blog series featuring writers and creatives from across Canada with stories that both highlight and celebrate Culture Days\u2019 2020 theme of Unexpected Intersections. Explore more intersections below:**\n\n- Theatre x Sport: [_Until the Lights Go Out_ by Taylor Basso](\/\/\/en\/blog\/until-the-lights-go-out)\n- Indigenous Storytelling x Digital Media: [_\u201cPeople are Finally Listening\u201d\u2013Indigenous Animation Rises Up_ by Chris Robinson](\/\/\/en\/blog\/indigenous-animation-rises-up)\n- Academia x Creativity: [_Building 21: Make zines, not research papers_ by Greta Rainbow](\/\/\/en\/blog\/building-21)\n- Poetry x (Natural) Environment: [_Listen to the River: An Ode to the Columbia River_ by Saba Dar](\/\/\/en\/blog\/listen-to-the-river)\n- Teahouse x Activism: [Chinatown's Living Room: _The gathering place for a budding activist community_ by Anto Chan](\/\/\/en\/blog\/tea-base)\n- Traditional Craftsmanship x Youth Outreach: [_At the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, They Build More Than Boats_ by Aleen Leigh Stanton](\/\/\/en\/blog\/building-boats-changing-lives)\n- Visual Arts x Science: [_What happens when you mix an artist, a scientist and a very bright light?_ by Vivian Orr](\/\/\/en\/blog\/artist-scientist-light)","content_fr":null,"should_publish_at":null,"published_at":"2020-09-02 10:10:02","first_published_at":"2020-06-10 12:38:44","deleted_at":null,"created_at":"2020-06-10 12:38:07","updated_at":"2020-09-02 10:10:02","thumbnail_file_id":null,"featured_at":null,"is_featured":false,"is_published":true,"should_publish":false,"status":"published"}" style="scroll-snap-align: start;">




Maybe we need interventions. Maybe we need something to give us a moment to take a step to the side. Not a step back, just a step to the side. And just take a moment to pause and realign, and recalibrate, and redefine what matters.\n\n![Artist Kat Singer.](assets\/National\/blog\/a-step-to-the-side\/singer.jpg){.small}\nMultimedia artist, maker, activist and educator Kat Singer, who will be guiding attendees through the collaborative creation of sculptures from reclaimed materials, has found personal healing in similar work. \"My work helps me process whatever I am going through at the moment,\" explains Kat. \"As I build a figure, stitch by stitch, I contemplate the meanings behind my struggles, and honour my story. When a sculpture is complete, I often feel relieved, since I have a much better understanding of what I am dealing with.\" The sculptures Kat will be making with visitors at CD@L will take the form of trees, which, they explain, represent ideas of growth, resilience and adaptability \u2013 key components of wellness.\n\n![Textile sculpture. Photo courtesy of Kat Singer.](assets\/National\/blog\/a-step-to-the-side\/singer-textile-sculpture-detail.jpg)\n\nJaene F. Castrillon, whose work combines art and activism with spirituality, also has a personal story of finding improved well-being through art. \"My entire practice came into being in 2013 after bouts of chronic illness and pain rendered me disabled,\" Jaene explains. \"My art has become an adventure that celebrates the brilliance and heartbreak of living a life less ordinary \u2013 creating an alternative to harmful notions around wellness, illness and worthiness, honouring art as medicine by taking up space and digging into myself.\"\n\nAt CD@L, Jaene will offer a dreamcatcher workshop, where Indigenous elders will share their knowledge on the significance of the dreamcatcher while participants create their own. \"It is said by some that they let our good dreams through and diffuse our bad dreams so they don't return. A good night's sleep is [an] integral part of wellness,\" she explains. \n\n![Artist Jaene F. Castrillon, _A Celebration of Darkness_. Photo courtesy of Jaene F. Castrillon.](assets\/National\/blog\/a-step-to-the-side\/castrillion-a-celebration-of-darkness.png)\n\nWhile Jaene, Kat and Kanika are multidisciplinary artists with diverse approaches to their respective crafts, all agree on the fundamental nourishing essence of creativity. \"Creativity ought to be recognized for its crucial role in a healthy lifestyle, and given the time and space it deserves,\" says Kat. \"[Art] has been a source of joy and healing for me. When I share my art with others, I invite them to nourish what is already inside them: resilience, beauty, and joy.\"\n\nAnd what better place to undertake these activities of creativity and connection than the library, which, for Jaene, represented a childhood sanctuary against hardship and abuse: \"I feel that I survived my very bleak childhood because I could borrow books by authors like Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe. [\u2026] Libraries have been intrinsic to my survival and upbringing.\"\n\nKanika, who tries to reduce barriers in her artistic practice, values the library as a space of accessibility. \"In theory, it doesn't discriminate, [if] you're a newcomer to the city, you have special needs, whatever it may be. [\u2026] It's a public space that's welcoming to everyone, that fosters knowledge and growth.\"\n\nWith six artist-led programs taking place, there are ample opportunities for knowledge and growth, and to explore what Kanika calls \"the natural human urge\" of creativity. \n\n>So many people stop themselves, like, 'oh, I can't make art, I'm not good,' or whatever stories or inhibitions they have. That's why I'm excited to do a program like this for Culture Days, because it's really for everyone. And it doesn't matter if you think you're good or bad. What matters is if you're interested, you're curious, you wanna be creative, you wanna explore yourself, and you just wanna try something new.\n>> \u2013 Kanika Gupta\n \nOn September 27 and 28, try something new with Culture Days @ the Toronto Public Library.\n\n\n**Culture Days @ the Library is an initiative of Ontario Culture Days, curated by Meaghan Froh Metcalf, Outreach & Programs Manager, for it's ninth iteration in 2019.**\n\n**This Ontario Culture Days program is produced in partnership with [Toronto Public Library](https:\/\/\/). Ontario's @ the Library programming is made possible thanks to the support of the [Ontario Library Association](http:\/\/\/web).**","content_fr":"","should_publish_at":null,"published_at":"2019-07-17 12:00:00","first_published_at":null,"deleted_at":null,"created_at":"2019-07-10 11:25:39","updated_at":"2019-10-04 18:02:59","thumbnail_file_id":null,"featured_at":null,"is_featured":false,"is_published":true,"should_publish":false,"status":"published"}" style="scroll-snap-align: start;">




What is the number one barrier to independent artists participating in Culture Days?\u201d The answer was: venues. The ensuing partnership was created in part to remedy this problem.\n\nThe Toronto Public Library viewed this challenge as an opportunity to develop partnerships that would strengthen its relationships and commitment to the city\u2019s local cultural and artistic communities. One of their key partners in Culture Days @ the Library is The Neighbourhood Arts Network, a strategic initiative of the Toronto Arts Council, that helps artists and community organizations enrich Toronto\u2019s urban landscape, transforming it into a more vibrant, beautiful, liveable city.\n\nFrom Etobicoke to Scarborough, North York to downtown Toronto, during the Culture Days weekend, Toronto Public Library branches provide free venues for Toronto-based artists, small and medium-sized professional arts groups, as well as volunteer-run cultural organizations, collectives and associations, so that they can organize activities, workshops, exhibitions and performances for local residents. The Neighbourhood Arts Network disseminates information about this opportunity to Toronto\u2019s independent artists and community focused arts organizations to make them aware and invite them to participate.\n\nThrough its participation in Culture Days, and more broadly with this innovative programming and approach to community outreach, the Toronto Public Library, in collaboration with its key partners, maintains a central position in life of the community. Since 2011, the program has helped more than 117 artists and arts groups share their work with more than 5,000 Torontonians in 70 library branches across the city.\n\nSome of the impacts of Culture Days @ the Library include providing artists access to free spaces to show their work, as well as augmenting the number of people that interact with their work. Event organizers have commented that artists tend to stay in touch with their local branch, and are able to deliver programs and activities at other times during the year. Finally, this partnership enables the Toronto Public Library to create and co-host fun and engaging activities for the members of their local library branches and the community at large.\n\n![Shannon Thunderbird at the Toronto Public Library Scarborough, 2012](assets\/National\/blog\/mobilizing-community\/toronto-public-library-4.jpg){.pull .right}\n\n**The Role of the Independent Artist as Mobilizer**\n\nShannon Thunderbird, Coast Tsimshian Elder, artist, Founder and Artistic Director of [Teya Peya Productions](http:\/\/\/teya_peya_communications.htm) has performed three times as part of Culture Days @ the Library: at Black Creek in 2011 and at Kennedy\/Eglington in 2012. This year, she brought her workshop to the Annette Street branch. \u201cShe has a really interesting and exciting activity that is easy to promote. Branch staff have always been quick to snap up her program,\u201d says Miriam Scribner.\n\nEntitled \u201cRolling Thunder,\u201d this year\u2019s workshop brings forth women\u2019s voices and recalls the power of the human spirit. It also provides an opportunity for new immigrants and others to learn about First Nations people, stories, teachings, music and rhythms, which help, as she says, \u201cbridge the cultural divide.\u201d\n\n>Toronto has a large Native population. It behooves Elders like myself to reach out to them, and to all those interested in peaceful relationships, to come together in a good way,\u201d says Shannon.\n\nShannon\u2019s own art practice shares important values with Culture Days\u2019 objectives of inclusion and hands-on participation by citizens. The goal of her activity during Culture Days is to raise awareness and understanding amongst Native and non-Native people around the contributions and richness of First Nations cultures.\n\n>My interactive approach empowers people from all over the world to give to themselves a strong sense of self-confidence and fearlessness by broadening personal goals and their understanding of different cultures,\u201d says Shannon. \u201cI use the medicine wheel as a unifying symbol of peaceful interaction and as an indicator of our spirit\u2019s health and wellness. It is adaptable to contemporary times, and is a wonderfully uplifting way of developing both environmental awareness and strength of character for personal and professional pro-active change,\u201d says Shannon.\n\nClick here to listen to Shannon Thunderbird talk about her work bridging relationships between First Nations and newly arrived immigrants:\n\n![](https:\/\/\/q0moSnsCWqc) \n \nWhile the foundation of Canadian citizenship is tied to the history of all of the people of Canada, including First Nations people, their culture and history are often overlooked in schoolrooms. Shannon\u2019s mission is to share this history, especially with new Canadians. As an Elder and educator, she finds these exchanges especially gratifying, and is hopeful that in the future First Nations cultures will be celebrated in \u201cpositive and uplifting\u201d ways.\n\n\u201cNewly arrived immigrants get very excited, they know that Canada has original Native people and when they come to the performance, they are enthralled about these stories, and they are very respectful,\u201d explains Shannon.\n\nSharing across cultural boundaries paves the way for innovation and mutual understanding, attributes that are increasingly necessary for people to co-habit in a globalized and interconnected world. People often reside in compact, multicultural cities and work within professions that are more and more specialized. Libraries have understood this reality, and have worked towards empowering citizens, revitalizing communities, building a sense of belonging and providing support structures for citizens.\n\nClick on the link to listen to Shannon Thunderbird talk about the value of traditional First Nations teachings and how they are relevant today:\n\n![](https:\/\/\/eJD-AGvaCfQ)\n \n**Exporting a Participation Model to Other Library Networks**\n\nIn 2012, the venue matching process was decentralized to allow local branches more freedom to select activities that fit their space and ones that would attract local community members. For the last two years, information sessions for all activity organizers were presented by the Toronto Public Library, the Neighbourhood Arts Network and Culture Days Ontario. Local library branches make arrangements directly with the artists, which improves communication and makes for more efficient planning.\n\n>These info sessions have been invaluable in creating stronger connections with artists, helping us to better know the individuals and their work. Through them, we have learned more about what artists may need, how to assist them in their Culture Days activities, and also create links that can be drawn on in the future,\u201d says Miriam Scribner.\n\n\u201cThe Toronto Public Library is eager to make its experience available to other systems and to that end we have participated in a webinar on Culture Days @ the Library organized by Culture Days in partnership with the Ontario Library Association,\u201d says Miriam Scribner. The Toronto Public Library is now reaching out to other library networks. All three partners - Toronto Public Library, Neighbourhood Arts Network and Culture Days Ontario - are participating in creating a resource kit that other library systems may benefit from.\n\n>Libraries have been great partners across the province,\u201d says Catherine McLeod. \u201cAt least 127 activities were presented in or by libraries in 2012, and at least 102 library branches participated in Culture Days. I have talked to people quite a bit about our model and sent other libraries some examples of our materials and systems.\u201d\n\nThe Stratford Library has been an active participant over the last few years. In Manitoba, Michelle Rosner, Culture Days\u2019 Communications and Events Coordinator, has recently confirmed the participation of 3 to 5 library branches that will host [art exhibitions and musical performances](\/\/\/en\/2013-activities\/view\/52052b76-21f0-40b5-a43c-33554c4a89be). The model created in Ontario has also inspired a project between the Winnipeg Public Library, Culture Days Manitoba, and the architectural firm StorefrontMB, which invites local artists to design Little Free Libraries for Winnipeg neighbourhoods.\n\nThe partners in Ontario are now interested in working with smaller library systems, which could benefit from expertise in their efforts to scale up participation by local artists and provide increased access to a more diversified audience base.\n\n>We are working to put together a toolkit based on this program so that other library systems can replicate it,\u201d confirms Catherine McLeod.\n\nThe workload is heavy, however, the project is viable because of the existing partnership, and the sustained efforts put into it by an engaged staff that supports it.\n\n**Conclusion**\n\nAs Libraries become hubs for people to network and connect around issues that matter to them, artists are invited to take part by bringing their knowledge and experience to serve as a catalyst for people\u2019s creativity. Artists, such as Shannon Thunderbird, also help forge bonds between different realities, inviting citizens to \u201cstamp their cultural passports,\u201d to use her evocative expression, as a way to understand themselves, as well as others, within the context of changing global communities.\n\nPart of the artist\u2019s role is to educate and introduce citizens to the unlimited wealth of cultural life in their own communities. With Culture Days @ the Library, the Toronto Public Library, The Neighbourhood Arts Network and Culture Days Ontario, publicly recognize the artist\u2019s presence and value to their community. As was the case with the [Artist-Animateur program in Saskatchewan](\/\/\/blog\/2013\/07\/23\/saskatchewan-artist\/), artists in the Greater Toronto Area working within the Toronto Public Library system engage segments of the Canadian population often left out of the usual cultural circuits. Learning to live together, discovering new things, celebrating local heritage, and encouraging people to connect to their own creativity lay the foundations for vibrant, innovative and prosperous knowledge societies.\n\nThis blog was made possible thanks to the generous support of [The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation](http:\/\/\/en) and the [Canada Council for the Arts](http:\/\/\/).","content_fr":"","should_publish_at":null,"published_at":"2013-11-01 12:00:00","first_published_at":null,"deleted_at":null,"created_at":"2019-06-25 15:32:02","updated_at":"2019-10-04 18:02:58","thumbnail_file_id":null,"featured_at":null,"is_featured":false,"is_published":true,"should_publish":false,"status":"published"}" style="scroll-snap-align: start;">