Newest Crush

I was asked recently which nonprofit organization I thought had the best social media. I normally answer with one of the local powerhouses, like SickKids Foundation, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario and Alexander Neef (yes, he’s an individual, but he presents himself as an extension of the Canadian Opera Company, and in so doing makes the COC accessible and relatable).

But there is a new social media stud on the scene – the Aga Khan Museum.

If you’re curious, the Aga Khan Museum is that intriguing building going up to the west of the Don Valley Parkways just north of Eglinton. Keep an eye out for it next time you’re stuck in soul-crushing DVP traffic.

The Aga Khan Museum isn’t even open yet, but I already feel like I’ve been welcomed in its doors, received a guided tour behind the scenes, and been able to peruse its collection. A picture says a thousand words and it’s no news to any community manager that audiences love imagery. The Aga Khan Museum has been using its Facebook feed almost like an image-based tumblr, posting a high proportion of images showing the construction of its building and some of the artifact they’ll have on display.  Feast your eyes on the kind of posts they share:


Not only are their artifacts beautifully crafted, but I really appreciate the amount and tone of text that accompanies them. Informative without being patronizing.


This place will have a reflecting pool, people.


Oh, no big deal, just an absolutely swoon-worthy geometric screen.

Part of my infatuation with the Aga Khan Museum is that it’s new, yes, but also because it’s dedicated to the “intellectual, cultural, artistic and religious heritage of Islamic communities” – of which my knowledge and experience is sorely lacking. I enjoy going to the ROM and the AGO, where I have worked and volunteered, and which exhibit artifacts that I’ve already learned about at some point along my +12 years of art/historical studies. But I am genuinely excited to be exposed to artifacts, whose details and significance are new to me.

I’m chomping at the bit to visit this museum. And I’m relishing the confident ease with which the Aga Khan Museum manages to promote itself before even opening its doors.

Now, how to get myself an invite to its opening…

I’ll turn the question to you — which nonprofit organization do you think has the best social media?


If your new year’s resolution was to give back…

Then have we got an event for you.

It’s that time of year again! Timeraiser, one of my favourite events, is coming to Toronto in March.

I love Timeraiser. It’s an art auction. But instead of bidding dollars, you bid volunteer hours.

Opportunities for young donors to engage with causes – beyond our sometimes meager wallets – are what gets my blood pumping (plus, there’s art, which is pretty much my main passion in life). Because volunteers and organizations get to work out their arrangements themselves, we’re not just talking envelope-stuffing and door-knocking volunteer gigs. This event helps organizations take advantage of an incredible (over-) qualified demographic of young and determined professionals.

The cherry on this bombastic sundae is that Timeraiser pays the artists for their submissions too.

Last year I won a work of art at Timeraiser with a bid of 100 hours (which is the maximum allowed). I was at first daunted by the commitment, but I was able to reach that goal, months ahead of schedule.

Timeraiser put in to perspective how much of my time I donate to causes I love. It also made me think differently about what services I can provide. Through Timeraiser I helped organize events, designed promotional material, and worked on print layout for publications. I consider myself quite good at these things, and have done them pro bono (just sounds fancier than “free”) before, but for some reason the experience with Timeraiser let me see the accumulated value of my donated time.

And, because I’m as thrilled to support Timeraiser as I am the nonprofit organizations of my dreams, I’m submitting my own artwork for the auction this year. I would be thrilled to see my art hanging at the event, and hopefully inspire some aggressive bids…

Hope to see you at Timeraiser this year!

Heritage is Sporty!

As a member of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario’s young professionals group NextGen, I helped organize a heritage tour of Maple Leaf Gardens. I have fond memories of the building from when the Toronto Rock lacrosse team played there their first years (and the staggering lack of women’s washrooms!)

Scott Weir of E.R.A. Architects, the firm responsible for the heritage adaptive reuse of the Maple Leaf Gardens’ transformation in to the complex it is today, gave a terrific and informative tour. About 30 heritage professional and fans braved the nippy November weather to bask in a historied Toronto landmark.

Of course once inside we rushed to find Centre Ice, now in the middle of a grocery aisle.

Some of the original chairs were used to create a blue maple leaf – in honour of the arena’s namesake team. The diagonal zig-zagging line is a remnant of the original stairs – just one of the many examples whereby the original structure and use of the building was incorporated to the new design.

Maple Leaf Gardens still houses a rink! It’s in the exact spot of the original rink, just raised up a few storeys.

The trusses that support the roof of the building are simply beautiful (and totally Instagrammable).

The tour was a great success. Just a few young and passionate volunteers working out how to make heritage accessible and enjoyable for a wider audience. Keep an eye out for our next event at our Facebook page, and follow @arconserve and #ACONextGen on twitter. Hope to see you at the next event!
Were you on our tour? What did you think? Is there a heritage building in your town you’d like to know more about? Are you interested in hosting a tour? Let us know!

But I need these baskets back!

Or: A Love Letter to Historica Dominion Institute
Or: Donor Tips from a Broke Chick: Nostalgia Edition

If you grew up in Canada in the 1980s and 1990s, chances are you know exactly what happened to those peach baskets. (If you don’t, you can learn here).

Last night I was thrilled to be at Historica Dominion Institute’s sneak peak of two new Heritage Minutes videos. Oodles of Gen Y and Gen X and Gen-what-have-yous gathered to bask in a shared experience, nostalgia, and national pride. We were treated to a few 22 Minutes “sacrilege moments” – celebrating the Canadian tradition of shopping south of the border, and the design of washroom icons (“It’s not insulin. But you know where to pee”). Sadly, my favourite (“Finishing just out of the medals at the Olympics for over a hundred years”) was not included, and nowhere to be found online! If there’s one things Canadians do, it’s reference our inferiority complex.

ASIDE Looking for an academic paper that investigates national satire (aren’t we all)? This one‘s got you covered.

And then we got to see the top twelve (official) Heritage Minutes.  Peach baskets, burnt toast, the Halifax explosion, they were all there! The level of applause as each one began made it clear which ones the crowd loved the most (see the whole collection here). We even got to see the first two new Heritage Minutes to be released in years (coming soon to a commercial break near you). And I don’t mind telling you that some of those videos got me welling up with a sense of awe at the human stories woven through our history.

After the screening was finished, Historica Dominion Institute staff and actors came to answer the audience’s questions.

ASIDE Hey HDI, if you need examples of popularizing Canadiana and history and nostalgia, you may want to check out Kate Beaton.

Nostalgia came up a bunch of times throughout the evening. It wasn’t just that re-watching Heritage Minutes took me back to my childhood, it was the entire set up of the evening (shout out to Spotvin for their work!) There was free popcorn, pop, candy, a tshirt, and a loot swag bag – it was like being a kid at a birthday party again.

ASIDE And has only made me more determined to organize a milk and cookies fundraiser some day.

But it also got me thinking — on a Monday evening, on a modest budget, a not-all-that-flashy, charitable organization managed to draw us finicky Gen-Yers out to watch 30 minutes’ worth of old educational videos. Big organizations have capitalized on nostalgia (and the lucrativeness of derivative rights) in the relaunching of our childhood experiences (see: gritty reboots of 1990s action movies, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). My favourite night out in Toronto is at the 90s night (look, dance music was good back then). Nostalgia’s got quite the powerful draw.

So, if you’re finding it hard to get us to look up from our twitters and the distractions of our (youngish) adult lives, give us a opportunity to remember our pre-iPhone lives. I’m trying to think of events in the nonprofit community that do this and I’m coming up short. If you know of them, I’d love to learn more, so let me know in the comments!

Yet another Scotiabank Nuit Blanche post

No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative….It gets the people going.

As Scotiabank Nuit Blanche (SNB) descended on Toronto the Good once again, the streets filled with art and folks hoping for a unique experience.

I love Toronto, and I love art, so SNB is right up my alley. At my first SNB two years ago I headed out on the town with some friends, with no real plan, at 7pm (#rookiemistake). By midnight we gave up, having seen only a handful of installations and never escaping the financial district. The crowds were too thick, the lines too long. Last year I volunteered at the installation at my work for the full 12 hours, so had no chance to see the rest of the city. This year would be different. And it was.


A friend asked to show some of my paintings at his Starbucks at Queen and Bathurst, and do live-drawing. From 11pm to 1am I sipped hot chocolate and drew the myriad customers and staff who came in for a hit of caffeine to fuel their art night. It was great fun and I loved talking to folks as they waited for drinks. Crowds actually gathered at the window to watch me draw.

20121002-081408.jpgSometime around 1:30 Dale Rioux and I headed out on our SNB mission, with my planned-out map in hand.

20121002-081427.jpgThis piece completely lived up to my expectations. Glowing balls glittered in a park, turning all the adults in to kids again. We juggled, we tossed, we amassed and we strew the balls, and it truly did look like stars. Public space! Interactivity! Introspection! That’s how you do public art, folks.


Janet Cardiff, Forty-Part Motet (2001), 40-track audio installation, [Surrey Art Gallery, Surrey BC, Jan 2-Mar 23] Collection of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Image courtesy of the Surrey Art Gallery.

Photo: Sharon Doucette

I love Janet Cardiff. Her Paradise Institute was the most mind-blowing work I had ever experienced, and fundamentally changed my understanding of art’s boundaries forever. I had seen her The Forty Part Motet at the Power Plant Gallery a few years ago and could not get over its powerful simplicity. I could have stayed at the installation at Trinity St. Paul’s all night. The 40 speakers each project one singer’s voice. You can walk around, listening to a single part of a 40-part harmony, or sit in the middle and let the music mellow and meld before it reaches your ears. Folks were lying on mats in the floor, eyes closed, taking in the sound. Holding hands with friends. Smiling. I cannot lie, I got verklemt.

20121002-081436.jpgHad to swing by my alma mater, UTS. The facade was strewn with different illuminated materials. I thought the origami boxes used the space well.

20121002-081442.jpgDrumming at a lovely downtown church. Intense. Energetic.

20121002-081451.jpgOf course I went by the Canadian Music Centre, where I work. The brand new performance space was used to its fullest with lovely modern dance, light, and music. It was great to see folks sitting and taking in the performance.

I always like how installations at Ryerson University make use of its alleyways. This interactive installation filled the narrow space with energy. It also inspired my favourite OH of the night:  “I don’t think this is a bar guys, I think this is an exhibit. I don’t think they serve alcohol here.”

EARTH-MOON-EARTH (MOONLIGHT SONATA REFLECTION FROM THE SURFACE OF THE MOON)20121002-081512.jpgOnce upon a time I worked at Theatre Museum Canada, which rented offices above the Elgin Theatre. Every day I entered by the stage door, walked under the stage, up the grand staircase, through the Palladian Lounge, and finally to my office. Good times.  Anyway, this is another piece I had previously seen at the Power Plant Gallery. The music is translated to morse code, sent to the moon and reflected back. Because of the irregularities of the moon’s surface the music comes back imperfect, with notes coming early, late, or lost to space.

BEAM OF UNDERGROUND SUN20121002-081531.jpgIntense bright light! Loud! A little scary! Liked it a lot.

GREEN INVADERS20121002-081539.jpgPop culture! Nostalgia! Shared experience! Bright lights! Consumerism! Invasion! Globalism!

THE OTHER SIDE20121002-081549.jpgFour cameras, four screens, four corners. The trick was that the camera behind you projected to the screen in front of you, so you could never see your own face. Pretty sneaky sis. But seriously, I liked that.

All night we had been hearing what a nightmare the lineups were at City Hall. Fortunately my plan of getting to the installations of SNB after 1am worked perfectly. By the time we made it to the City Hall parking lot, it was 4am and we were allowed right in. It was an extensive and intense experience down there. The everybody’s-worst-nightmare-tableau-vivants were suitably uncomfortable-making. The hyper-reflective tubes were my favourite – beautiful and frustrating at the same time, in that my eyes watered when I tried to focus on them.


9 BEET STRETCH20121002-081558.jpgThis piece slowed down Beethoven 9th Symphony beyond recognition. I kept trying to recognize what part of the music we were at, but absolutely could not. It was as ethereal as it was frustrating. Folks had clearly let go of the latter part of that equation and lay down on mats, relaxing. I really enjoyed this piece too. Plus, it’s always nice to check out an EJ Lennox building.

It’s no secret that SNB is also treated as an excuse to be drunk. Streets become mosh pits. Vomit has to be avoided. People run up on top of taxis.


20121002-081643.jpgWalking the financial district at 4am is reminiscent of that scene from the 1967 Bedazzled when Stanley revisits Spiggott and the once-glamorous lair is a sad and sorry shadow of its former self. Most everyone on the street lurches around like zombies. Friends try to carry drunk colleagues home, or console whoever is crying in the bar doorway. I’m not a late night person, so these are scenes I haven’t seen since my undergrad years.

In addition to the party-goers were the buskers and independent artists who came out to take advantage of the increased foot traffic. My live-drawing wasn’t a sanctioned SNB installation, but the store was open, and the audience was there, and who can fault making art more accessible and introducing it to new spaces?

What’s your take on SNB?

ACO NextGen Design Charrette

If you were given a lucrative and beautiful lot in downtown Toronto and free creative reign, what would you do with it?

Bright and early on a chilly Saturday morning, 40 architects, planners, students, and heritage aficionados gathered in the Ontario Heritage Trust’s headquarters at 10 Adelaide Street E for the inaugural ACO NextGen Design Charrette.

ACO NextGen is the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario’s young professionals group. Our events have included pub nights, lectures, and tours of heritage sites. For the Design Charrettes, participants were tasked with designing a new use for 197-205 Yonge Street, commonly known as “those old banks across from the Eaton Centre.” The southernmost of the two buildings is already slated for condo-ification, and the northernmost has no plans yet but has (but was a feature of some of my grad school papers and my Ignite Culture presentation).

In the course of a day, the participants visited the site, mulled over public/private space, the needs of the area, monetization of space, and how to balance heritage architecture with new creation.

The presentations were outstanding. Groups had created professional schematics, and had come up with a wide range of options, with performance spaces, lecture halls, art galleries… None of the options went above 31 storeys, and most maintained the original structures of both buildings. It was interesting to note how much this differed from the trend of “slice off and preserve the front wall, demolish the rest of the building and build a 70-storey glass tower” we see everywhere else in Toronto when a heritage building becomes part of a development plan.

If you’re at all interested in architecture, planning, and heritage, get to know the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and ACO NextGen. Because these events are fun, often free, and you get to meet lots of cool people.

One of the group’s proposals -massive cube structures including a lecture hall suspended over the parkette. Did I mention they came up with this over the course of one day?

There are plenty more of other pictures of the day here.

Word on the street is there’s a tour and networking event slated for November, so follow the ACO on twitter and ACO NextGen on Facebook to find out the details as they develop.