Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Regent Park Does The Monster Mash

The Monster Mash, a cultural mash-up, a cultural breakdown, a cultural icon of inclusivity.

Regent Park in Toronto’s downtown east side is known for many things; however, it is the lingering and often misleading stereotype of being “one of the poorest neighbourhoods,” that shapes most people’s perspective of this area. Despite this misperceived backdrop of despair, the area has always maintained an unshakeable sense of community with generations of families calling the area home. Demographically the area has changed substantially, from a predominantly working class and low-income Irish composition during the early 1900s, to a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic make-up brought on by changes in Canadian Immigration policies from the 1960s and 1970s.

Today the make-up in Regent Park (based on ethnicity) consists of the following: Aboriginal 1.52%, Black13.64%, Recent Immigrant 6.06%, White 13.64%, South Asian 19.70%, African 45.45%, Southeast Asian 12.12%, Hispanic 3.03%, West Indian 1.52%, and Arab 3.03%. These figure help to distinguish shifts in the cultural landscape that suggest long-standing Euro-centric traditions, like Halloween, are almost destined to experience a certain amount of bifurcation or hybridity if they are to continue. And it is precisely at this point that cultural traditions become all the more interesting.

“The Monster Mash” a song by Bobby Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, at first glance sits firmly entrenched in the Anglo-European tradition of Halloween, but does that bare out under closer scrutiny? Written in the early 1960s, in a period in American musical history that was heavily influenced the black musical traditions of “gospel, jump blues, boogie, rhythm and blue, and country music” (Christ-Janer, Albert, Charles W. Hughes, and Carleton Sprague Smith, American Hymns Old and New (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), p. 364, ISBN 0-231-03458-X). The Monster Mash, in fact, owes as much to the musical styles of Dee Dee Sharp and other performers such James Brown, Carlton“King”Coleman, and Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, all whom recorded some version of the Mashed Potato (a song very similar in structure to The Monster Mash). And so, from the beginning, The Monster Mash, is a product of hybridity. One trend interacting with another, creating an offspring that is the mix of both.

Therefore, embracing The Monster Mash dance and the traditions of Halloween, becomes for newcomers an avenue for integration – the term Mash itself refers to a mix, or a melange – an appropriate metaphor for the mix of cultures and traditions that underpins all celebrations, be they religious, political, or secular.

Integration and inclusion are at the heart of what the Friends of Regent Park, a community-based organisation made-up of people that work together to support green space, cultural, and recreational activities in Regent Park is all about. And this year, as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts our social fabric, the Friends of Regent Park organized a virtual Halloween celebration. A mash-up of old and new, they mixed, pumpkin carving video tutorials, with pumpkin recipes that incorporate Asian flavours, and last of all that icon of the Halloween tradition, The Monster Mash Dance, presented by three members of Square Circle (a Regent Park non-profit) dedicated to engaging, educating and empowering youth through the use of Social Circus and creative arts.

In a short video, Jacob, Zahra, and Bayle, breakdown and breakout the unique dance moves (The Frankenstein, The Mash, The Crank, The Wolf, and The Rip) that make the song so mesmerizingly appealing. While Jacob and Zahra perform standing up, Bayle offers a version of the movements sitting down, demonstrating, how someone with mobility issues need not feel excluded.


The Monster Mash, a cultural mash-up, a cultural breakdown, a cultural icon of inclusivity.



https://youtu.be/zJK70KWY08c


By Dimitrije Martinovic

Dimitrije is a staff member at FOCUS MEDIA ARTS CENTRE























The Friends of Regent Park Carve Pumpkins

Regent Park is a community of communities. Demographically the area has changed substantially, from a predominantly working class and low-income Irish composition during the early 1900s, to a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic make-up brought on by changes in Canadian Immigration policies from the 1960s and 1970s. The shifts in the cultural landscape suggests that long-standing Euro-centric traditions, like Halloween would steadily be in decline, especially in a multi-ethnic community such as Regent Park. Halloween, however, remains one of the most celebrated days of the year and thanks to the Friends of Regent Park, will continue to be a fun filled custom in the Regent Park community in spite of Covid-19.

Halloween is observed annually on the night of 31 of October. The celebration, marking the division between the light and dark halves of the year, when the boundary between the living and dead was believed to be at its thinnest, is believed to have originated primarily as a Celtic tradition. In pre-Christian times, may people believed that spirits from the underworld and ghosts of dead people could visit the world of the living. These beliefs were brought to Canada by Scottish and Irish immigrants.

One of the most popular customs of Halloween is the jack-o-lantern. A jack-o-lantern is commonly a candle-light lit, carved pumpkin that usually sits on a window still or porch during the evenings of the Halloween season. Despite its popularity, few people know of the origins of the jack-o-lantern and would be surprised to hear that originally turnips not pumpkins were used. Pumpkins are native to North America and at the time did not exist in Ireland. The original jack-o-lanterns were hollowed-out turnips, beets or potatoes, carved to show a demonic face and lit from the inside by a candle. These vegetables were placed in a window or doorstep to frighten away evil spirits.

The term jack-o-lantern is derived from the myth of Stingy Jack, which is believed to have originated in the 17th century. According to Irish folklore, Stingy Jack was a drunkard and a cheat who was refused entry into heaven, because he was a miser, and hell, because he played tricks on the devil. Stingy Jack was condemned to roam the dimension between the living and the dead until Judgement Day with only an ember from hell to light his way. Jack kept the ember in a carved-out turnip as a lantern and thus was known as Jack of the lantern, or Jack-o-Lantern.

As years went by, the religious and spooky history behind pumpkin carvings has been forgotten, and the making of a jack-o-lantern is now consider a secular activity to bring families closer together. It’s for this reason that Friends of Regent Park have made a concerted effort to explore safe, fun ways that families in Regent Park can celebrate Halloween even in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. As part of the Halloween celebration this year, Friends of Regent Park gave away 50 free pumpkins to community members and worked with Regent Park TV to present this free Jack-o-lantern pumpkin carving workshop, as a way of engaging newcomer families in this Halloween tradition.

Friends of Regent Park is a community-based organization made-up of people that work together to support green space, cultural, and recreational activities in Regent Park.

By: Adonis Huggins with contribution by Jamelia Parnell

(Adonis is a staff member while Jamelia is a youth journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)


Centre for Social Innovation to end CSI - Regent Park’s Co-sharing Facility

CSI is pivoting from a co-sharing facility to a community support and development model.

On Monday October 26, 2020, after eight years of occupancy, the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) announced that they are ceasing operations of CSI – Regent Park. Established in 2012, on the third floor of the Daniels Spectrum building in Regent Park, the CSI co-sharing workspace, is sadly closing its doors.

Although CSI has not publicly indicated the actual reasons behind the closure, it is speculated that the cost recovery model for operating the Regent Park facility was not working, and the operating expenses was significantly exceeding the revenues. The closure of the facility due to COVID-19, combined to make a bad situation, only worse.

Since its inception in 2004, the Centre for Social Innovation’s vision of facilitating co-sharing spaces that put “people and planet first” has grown to include over 3000 members generating a combined annual revenue of $270 M. The idea of “co-sharing” or “co-working” means that people, not-for-profits or companies, co-habit a neutral work space while working on different projects, but through sharing the same amenities (including meeting rooms, lounge areas, kitchens, washrooms, printers, private offices, shared offices, and work desks) they are able to keep overhead cost down - for a developing or fledgling start-up, this arrangement holds a lot of promise.

Until the recently announced closure of the Regent Park facility, CSI operated three locations in Toronto, including one at 192 Spadina, and one at 720 Bathurst. Additionally, in 2012, CSI opened a new branch in New York City.

In Regent Park, CSI has partnered with social mission driven businesses and not-for-profits like Square Circle, Green Thumbs Growing Kids, Tastelig, Youth Empowering Parents, Peace Builders, African Women Acting, Dare Arts, Visions of Science, INTENT, Interiors by Art of Living Inc., Due Good, Canada World Youth, Career Skills Incubator, the FOCUS Media Arts Centre and many others. It is estimated that 150 different groups called CSI-Regent Park home.

Now, as the facility in at the Daniels Spectrum building is closing down CSI’s commitment to its members and the neighbourhood is far from over.

Over the next six months CSI will work with the existing 150 co-working members at Regent Park to consolidated them into the two other buildings on Spadina and the Annex.

Additionally, CSI will continue its presence in Regent Park. As Denise Souedian-O’Leary (Community Manager-CSI Regent Park) puts it, CSI is pivoting from a co-sharing facility to a community support and development model.

Over the next three to five years, CSI will preserve its involvement in Regent Park by maintaining Denise Souedian-O’Leary in the role of a community resource – connecting and strengthening partnerships with residents, grassroots groups, organizations and stakeholders to ensure that for example, the work of the Social Development Plans continues. CSI will also continue their community development project known as the Everyone Everyday Project – a project that aims to engage residents in variety of DIY activities that focus on the betterment of the community.


Click the link below to watch the full video:

https://youtu.be/of6lw2ODbGM

 

By Dimitrije Martinovic

Dimitrije is a staff member at FOCUS MEDIA ARTS CENTRE.