Jamii is an arts organization with the intention of both community-building & nurturing women in leadership. We spoke with Isorine Marc, Founder & Executive and Artistic Director, to find out more about them.
Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences:
Jamii is an arts organization with the intention of both community-building & nurturing women in leadership. Since 2011, Jamii (Swahili for “community”) has enlivened The Esplanade – one of downtown Toronto’s most unique & diverse communities. Through the production of over 200 memorable arts-based experiences that celebrate all people, Jamii strengthens the community and lifts spirits. Jamii is the proud recipient of the 2020 Community Arts Award by the Toronto Arts Foundation.
When did you start/join it?
In 2006, I immigrated from France to The Esplanade neighbourhood – a downtown Toronto planned community – and lived in one of the wonderful Co-Ops there. One day, a neighbour told me I was supposed to contribute 4 hours of volunteer time per month as part of living in a Co-Op. My expertise is in Arts Management and Events so I decided to organize a small one–day arts gathering for my neighbours. The change was drastic: from one day to the next, we started living with each other rather than living next to one another, simply because we shared a moment, which later became a memory. These were the seeds for Jamii.
What made you want to get involved?
I am in love with The Esplanade community, a neighbourhood that was dreamt on the concept of “mix”.
The Esplanade, which was developed in the seventies under the leadership of former Mayor David Crombie, is home to a very diverse population – with Esplanadians (as we call ourselves) of all ages, abilities, household incomes and cultural backgrounds living together.
The question that has always intrigued me is how, with such a wide diversity, do we ensure that intercultural understanding prevails. How do we ensure that economical disparity does not build walls between families; that both people with special needs and seniors are engaged and connected; and that all young people have an opportunity to express their unique voices?
I think that, while it won’t change the world, offering access to artistic experiences to everyone, and I mean everyone, with opportunities to gather, connect, and create together, has the potential to contribute to a more cohesive, united and supportive community.
What was the situation like when you started?
Back in 2011, I had met with Alan Littlewood, one of the architects of The Esplanade, when the idea of “Jamii” was being formed. He had told me that the park – David Crombie Park, had been designed with the intention to welcome social life. As Jamii shaped up, its mission became to ignite that social life. The wonderful people of The Esplanade, “Esplanadians” as we call ourselves, started doing the rest.
Through the years, Jamii had an impact on multiple layers: from the youths we involved in artistic projects from a very young age and who are now young adults launching their careers, to breaking down social isolation, enhancing a sense of pride and belonging, increasing access to the arts to everyone, creating social connections between friends, families and neighbours, Jamii has made our community safer, healthier and more vibrant.
Jamii is not a one-time bandage. Community building, at its heart, is about the journey we walk together through life. It has been only 10 years, and now we start seeing the first “Jamii generation”. We are now looking at the next decade to continue walking the path.
What more needs to be done?
Much more needs to be done, especially now, when the pandemic has hit us to our core: our social life. We are social beasts, it is a human need. Jamii, since March 2020, has worked tirelessly at finding ways to keep our social connection alive – as a thread to life. Many have told us how our programming has simply helped them go through the roughest times during the pandemic.
The photo exhibition “WIsdoM ripples” is one of these initiatives that intends to protect that thread to life. Not only do we offer an opportunity to the three amazing artists to showcase their breathtaking work, but we also bring along in this journey both the group of 9 young women who have been through a series of workshops to curate this exhibition and the hundreds (thousands) who will walk by and discovered an inspirational, engaging and moving photo exhibition.
Even in lockdown, this is a project that can be fully appreciated on a health walk in the neighbourhood. It also transforms our public space into an outdoor art gallery for everyone to enjoy at their own pace. It shows that we care about and take care of our community.
We are here. We are connected. We exist. We make arts. We share stories.
How can our readers help?
Visit the “Wisdom ripples” exhibit at the corner of Lower Sherbourne and The Esplanade, tell your friends and family, spread the word. If you want more, walk to the courtyard of the Toronto Public Library St Lawrence Branch (171 Front St E) to discover “Illuminated Perspectives” – another photo exhibition curated by young women of our community, this time featuring the work of 4 photographers from Pikangikum First Nation.
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?
Just north of Esplanade, check out the work of Building Roots – an amazing team there is also working hard at fostering social cohesion.
Where can we follow you?