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One year of isolation: what are we most proud of?

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March 22, 2021

tech set up
Technical Director's setup to run FENTSTER's online opening event, May 2020. Photo credit: Noah Guthman.

In late March 2020, Toronto entered the first quarantine period. Theatre doors closed, gallery exhibitions sat empty, and a world-wide “pause” was pressed on in-person activities. As we just passed the one-year mark for social isolation, and approach Passover, we asked Kultura Collective cultural professionals:

What are your organization’s proudest accomplishments this year?

As we communally reflect on this past year we hope to look back and learn from this time. What great artwork will be made about this experience? How will technology push us forward in our ability to connect across artistic practices and cultures? We are proud of our accomplishments this year and enjoyed seeing you virtually. But, we can’t wait to welcome you back into our theatres, galleries and public spaces to see you in person, hopefully soon!

Disability-identified youth at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital took part in Still Lives, a Koffler photography project during the COVID-19 pandemic

In times of crisis, the arts play a critical role in providing hope, maintaining community, and offering new ways of making sense of a complex world. Over the past year, the Koffler Centre of the Arts adopted innovative approaches to working and thinking, while remaining steadfast in our mission of providing transformative arts experiences to audiences of all ages. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, we sustained a high-volume of compelling artistic programs, generating critical dialogue on socially-relevant themes. We are especially proud of having deepened our commitment to equity across our organization, and of providing some of the most vulnerable members of our community—including seniors, newcomers, and disability-identified youth—with meaningful opportunities for engagement amidst social isolation.

Karen Tisch
Executive Director, Koffler Centre of the Arts

I’m proud of the MNjcc’s priority statement and action on Black Lives Matter and our partnership with No Silence on Race. Also, success in offering outstanding relevant and accessible Jewish Arts & Culture virtual programming that is open to all, in collaboration with both new and established partners.

Esther Arbeid
Director, Arts & Culture, Miles Nadal JCC
Suzanna Papian, The Jerusalam Khan Theatre, Jerusalem, Israel

Going virtual opened our eyes to the possibility of making connections with Jewish theatre’s around the world. This culminated with Our Global Hannukah Celebration, where we shared performances, and started relationships with theatre’s from 10 countries speaking in 6 languages, all sharing the Jewish story. I know this will reap more rewards in the future for both our audiences and theirs.

David Eisner
Co -Artistic Director, Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company

The Schwartz/Reisman Centre and the Prosserman JCC is proud of launching the Virtual J.  We have collaborated with many partners globally, engaged the members, recruited new participants to strengthen their Jewish identity and increase their connection to community.

Jennifer Appleby
Chief Programs Officer, Schwartz/Reisman Centre and the Prosserman JCC
Scrolling Spadina video tour

Each year, the Ontario Jewish Archives invites a U of T’s Master of Museum Studies graduate student to do a capstone project at the OJA. In 2020, despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, we were thrilled to create a meaningful work opportunity for emerging heritage professional, Hanna Schacter. In May 2021, the Ontario Jewish Archives will be launching our all-new digital heritage tour of Kensington Market, based on one of our signature walking tours. In helping to create this virtual tour, Hanna successfully collaborated with our dedicated professional team of archivists including our expert tour guides and freelance filmmaker Pierre Kochel to showcase the history of the Jewish Market. All this without ever setting foot in the archives! We are proud of what Hanna has been able to accomplish, transitioning our tour into a fully-accessible virtual experience, allowing us to extend our reach to countless school groups and to those who are unable to participate in person, an especially memorable and meaningful experience this year.

Faye Blum
Archivist and Outreach, Ontario Jewish Archives
Artist Ella Cooper together with Curator Evelyn Tauben and artist friends at the Sidewalk Soiree for Witness at FENTSTER, October 2020. Photo credit: Yvonne Bambrick.

Through wave after wave of lockdowns where the city and the world’s largest museums and galleries were shuttered, our little FENTSTER window gallery never had to close. I’m so proud that FENTSTER was able to continue bringing art to this city through three new exhibitions all mounted since the pandemic started. I am even more proud of the relationships that I’ve shaped across distances and all on screen with Jewish artists of Colour and the amazing, ground-breaking events that we created together to amplify the voices of Jewish artists of Colour and their artistic work. These relationships will continue, and our work together has only just begun.

Evelyn Tauben
Curator, FENTSTER

I am most proud of the way The Song Shul re-directed all of its programming to online and radio, reaching a wider audience. Specifically, on the High Holy Days, we made history with the first ever Canadian radio broadcast of High Holy Day musical services, reaching over 100,000 listeners who couldn’t attend a synagogue. Throughout the year, with our musical programming on YouTube, we were able to not only entertain Jewish people everywhere, we were able to employ A LOT of musicians and performers who needed the work. 

Aliza Spiro
Creative Director, The Song Shul
Artistic Director, Jewish Music Week in Toronto
Hanukkah Survivor’s Social, December 2020.

Through this challenging year, the Neuberger has continued to amplify its commitment to meaningful Holocaust education and to ask difficult questions like, what have we learnt from the Holocaust as a society that can better inform our future. Through thoughtful programming in film and conversation, we have broadened the conversation to consider Canada’s wartime conduct, culpability and blame, and how social media and memes have been used to spread conspiratorial antisemitism. Though we look forward to in-person programming, we are proud of our community’s continuous and deep engagement through online learning opportunities.  

Dara Solomon
Executive Director, Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre

Despite the disappointment of having to cancel our long-anticipated 25th anniversary Ashkenaz Festival (we had very ambitious plans!), we found a meaningful way to observe this milestone virtually, by presenting a week of twice-daily livestream presentations featuring amazing archival performances from past festivals, and brand new live pop-up performances from Toronto-based artists, shot safely in outdoor locations across the GTA. Our virtual celebration also included an online exhibition about our history. Together, these elements helped us capture the spirit and energy of the festival. Our curatorial and production success, as well as the enthusiastic community response, was exceptionally gratifying and gave us a sense of confidence in adapting our work for these ‘novel’ circumstances.

Eric Stein, Artistic Director
Samantha Parnes, Managing Director
Ashkenaz Festival
Anastasiya Lyubas in Conversation with Miri Koral, “Debora Vogel: Wandering Star of Yiddish Literature”, January 2021

The Committee for Yiddish is proud of how we were able to take all our Yiddish classes and programs online and had our most successful year ever, connecting with Yiddishists from across Canada and around the world and helping to promote Toronto as a world centre of Yiddish language and culture.

Sharon Power
Committee for Yiddish
The Future of Cultural Arts, conversation on the Virtual J, July 2020.

In the last year, I have been amazed to see how quickly artists and arts organizations have reimagined how they engage with audiences outside of traditional arts display models. This approach has allowed for a new way to reach the public and create increased access to the arts. With digital innovations and experiences driven by artists, arts organizations and cultural leaders, we will find new ways of expressing and sharing our stories, paving the way forward for a cultural renaissance, together.

Sam Mogelonsky
Director of Arts Culture and Heritage, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto

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