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.
Toronto is at a turning point. It has become stuck in a pattern of short-sighted development and the estrangement of one sector of our society from another. It’s time to take a risk on real change, and to embrace the interweaving of the tremendous human, social and creative resources within our city.
Our vision is to spark a renaissance of civic engagement leading to the creation of new forms of public space. At the core of this is the concept of the 21st Century Village Square. We believe in the power of people joining together across sectors and cultures to drive meaningful change. Our project aims to integrate creativity and the arts into the wider sphere of local economic and urban development.
In its first three years, Diasporic Genius piloted modest but impactful programs in the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood of Toronto; these are the initial manifestation of David Buchbinder’s very big ideas. All of our initiatives are designed to enrich everyone involved, in a spirit of collaboration rather than a charitable giving/receiving relationship. From its inception, Diasporic Genius has mentored community activists, and is developing an in-depth training program called Creative Pathfinders, that will give urban change-makers the tools they need to transform their own communities. DG has begun mentoring community leaders in Thorncliffe Park; our work is grounded in the philosophy that Diasporic Genius should be a catalyst for change, creating the conditions, skills and capacity for communities to move forward in whichever direction they wish to go.
The overarching concept behind Diasporic Genius is the 21st Century Village Square, a shared public space designed to bring people together for a multitude of social, creative, educational and economic purposes that are essential to civic health. To date, the village square has been an idea brought to life through our pilot pilots. Our goal is the development of actual squares integrated into the built urban environment. Toronto’s rapid growth provides the perfect opportunity to plan for this kind of public space all over the city. Just imagine bustling hubs where stories are shared, services and programs for the whole community are available, human-scale enterprise takes places, and art thrives!
With minimal resources, David attracted the financial and volunteer support necessary to deliver programming that reached hundreds of people in its first three years. In 2014, he successfully applied for a multi-year Ontario Trillium Grant that will allow Diasporic Genius to expand deeper into Thorncliffe Park and wider across the city. David’s role is now that of Artistic/Project Director. In 2016, Roula Said came on board as administrator, class facilitator and co-producer of feasts and festivals in Thorncliffe Park. This year marked many small successes in the community including the launching of a drumming and singing ensemble bornj of a Diasporic Genius class, and the TAG Cafe, a pop-up food cart created by ERA Architects in collaboration with Thorncliffe Action Group.
We are looking forward to building and growing our partnerships, programs and presentations in 2017. Gratitude to the Toronto Arts Council for a Community Arts Grant to develop the Drum and Sing Ensemble in 2017, and to Ontario Trillium Foundation for their ongoing support.