by Ashley Culver, Angelica Ng, and Liz Tsui
Dear C Magazine,
The idea of community is often talked about these days as we grapple with finding or maintaining the bonds that keep us connected. But what community requires is more complex than mere commonality. Growing up as second-generation Chinese Canadian in Calgary, my city’s Chinatown was both comfortingly familiar and oddly foreign to me. I had a childhood immersed in the bustling culture of this historic alcove, yet I struggled to truly resonate with the customs and ways of living that I witnessed. I could feel Chinatown welcoming me into its space, but I did not know how to make it a space I belonged to. Reading Steph Wong Ken’s piece, “Community is Never Neutral: Placemaking in Chinatowns Across Canada,” I finally sensed a possible place for myself in a community in which I had only ever considered myself an imposter. When The New Gallery (TNG) first opened in Chinatown, I viewed it as an outsider—much like myself—to a neighbourhood with well-established traditions and heritage. However, over the years, I have indeed seen TNG evolve and grow into a community partner, using art to foster the unique, diverse, and distinctly personal stories of the people in Chinatown. The recognition that a place is, above all else, a collection of its people and their stories gives me hope that the community I always thought I didn’t belong to is simply waiting for me to find my own voice in it.
Thank you for sharing. Sincerely,
On this rainy grey day, it was delightful to be transported to summertime on Hanlan’s Point through Jamie Ross’s writing. His description of frolicking on the dunes, gay picnics, and communing with one’s own queerness made me long for the warmth—of weather and being together—of those evenings. It also reminded me of Mary Oliver’s poem “Those Days,” which begins: “When I think of her I think of the long summer days / she lay in the sun, how she loved the sun, how we / spread our blanket, and friends came, and / the dogs played.” I received a free copy of the book Thirst, which includes “Those Days,” along with many others poems by Oliver, from The Aesop Queer Library during Pride Month this past summer. The same month, a young man was the victim of homophobic comments and assaulted, injured to the point of needing surgery at the ferry dock near Hanlan’s Point. So 50 years later, there is enough capital for companies to pinkwash, but our community continues to be unsafe. Let us convene for more picnics within the woods and at the water’s edge of our cherished beach.
Hi C Mag,
Reflecting on the theme of community in the previous issue of C Magazine, what comes to mind is just how small the art world can be. I think of scholars and artist groups I’ve had the privilege of working with and how perfectly events have aligned for me to submit this letter. I recently attended (and intend to continue attending) events part of the “Gudskul’s Knowledge Garden Festival” at the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU). I was introduced to a new and refreshing take on what role the arts can play in the lives of artists, makers, scholars, and the public. Speaking with Amy Zahrawaan during Hanya Memberi Tak Harap Kembali (HMTHK) or To Give and Expect Nothing in Return, we discussed the benefit of sharing artwork to relationships and his admirable goal of remembering everyone he meets, including me (we initially met in 2019).
Reading Vince Rozario’s piece about how Gudskul came to be in touch with curator Emelie Chhangur (and the AGYU by extension), and about the thought process behind some of the collective’s work, deepened my understanding that despite its size, there is a general lack of connectivity in the Toronto art scene. Relatedly, the discussion of burnout in Rozario’s interview also struck a chord with me; as Geneviève Wallen says, “it’s not normal to burn out in your 20s!” I fear that maybe that’s false. Among my peers and I, hustle culture is prevalent. As artists and students, we share the mindset that if we—even for a moment— stop working, we’ll be lost in the tides of other eligible and diligent youths. Perhaps the more accurate statement is that it ought not to be normal to burn out in your 20s. Gudskul may well be putting us on a path that will ease this mindset and elevate grassroots arts organizations to be more communicative with one another than ever before; we only stand to gain from it.