Full Video Documentation
Project Tour with Nick Kaufmann
Firgrove Reimagined is a web-based, virtual environment hosted on Mozilla Hubs. It was created in collaboration with 7 community artists and leaders from the Jane-Finch neighbourhood in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
This project was the result of an ongoing collaboration with a public housing community located in the Jane-Finch (JF) neighbourhood in northeastern Toronto called Firgrove. This community shares similar challenges as other social housing projects in fighting negative media portrayals that situate them as hubs for crime, drugs and social issues. Affectionately known as Connections, it boasts rich cultural diversity and an unbiased caring spirit. In 2014, it was identified as 1 of 31 Toronto neighbourhoods to be designated as a Neighbourhood Improvement Area (NIA) and was subject to a “revitalization” process to redevelop aging community housing in the area, resulting in a progressive displacement of residents and dissolution of communities. In 2018, a partnership was struck between the community and creative technologists with the focus on empowering the youth of this community with critical and technical skills as well as cutting edge media production technology to allow them to record, express, archive and disseminate the stories of this vibrant community as it presently exists.
In the Spring of 2023, the exhibition Firgrove Forever was staged at York University’s Gales Gallery. A combination of curated works from artists and activists in the community, as well as new works co-created with youth in the community, it was a celebration of the artistry and creative energies of the Firgrove neighbourhood, a community undergoing much change as a result of the City of Toronto’s “revitalization” process to vacate and rebuild aging community housing in the area. The exhibition was a milestone presentation in a longer collaborative effort between residents of the Firgrove/Jane-Finch community who coalesce at the community hub space – Firgrove Learning and Innovation Centre (FLICC), and researchers at York University to build an archive and traveling exhibition of artworks and narratives of value to the community entitled the Firgrove Mixed Media Oral Narratives Project. Given the massive change in the near future for this community and inspired by the vision of the FLICC that serves as a space of support and enrichment for the community youth as they explore and challenge the realities they confront in their everyday lives, the Firgrove Mixed Media Oral Narratives Project focuses on empowering the youth of this community with critical and technical skills as well as cutting edge media production technology to allow them to record, express, archive and disseminate the stories of this vibrant community as it presently exists.
During the intensive planning phase (Jan – May 2023) for the Firgrove Forever exhibition, we worked with members in the community that were part of a parallel redevelopment project in JF/Firgrove to recontextualize their artistic inclinations and inspirations from the process. These vignettes became the virtual world entitled Firgrove Reimagined. The artists we worked with were: spoken word poet Venesha Cardwell who performed her work “The Projects” through a digital twin animation; hip hop producer Nathan Baya who developed a virtual stage/studio for his music series “Jane Street Speaks”; community activist Tiffany Ford who showcased her memories in a building modelled after an apartment stairwell in Firgrove; photographer Stephanie Ampuero who co-built a virtual gallery; documentary filmmaker Christine Le who interviewed JF food stall owners in precarious status; community animator Terryl Knox who co-developed an interactive stage for repositioning 3D models of buildings in the Firgrove neighborhood; and artist-philosopher Octavia Riley who reimagined her childhood homes through the poetic and literary lenses. To access these rooms, visitors navigate through a virtual lobby that was a digital twin of the JF intersection stratified by time – a lower level would lead to rooms featuring memories/past experiences, and an upper level stretching up into the clouds leading to rooms featuring more future-oriented imaginings.
The virtual environment enables communities with new affordances for staging and performing their creative works and reaching new audiences and the hope is that they continue to use it as a platform for amplification of their ideas around revitalization processes in the neighborhood. Since the start of the project, we have been invited to the table at the Firgrove Tenants advisory committee with Toronto Community Housing, where we have spoken about the way creative arts can be a multi-dimensional medium to amplify the voice of residents, as well as incorporate further social justice art-making practices. In the way that these counter the dominant narratives of racialized youth in Jane-Finch and support forms of transformative agency, these invitations are proving to be key indicators of the importance of this project in Jane Finch.