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Jumblies Theatre and Arts

May 3, 2019

For this feature, ArtsEngageCanada teammate Natalie sat down with Jumblies Theatre & Art's Founding Artistic Director, Ruth Howard. Drawing from her long history in community-engaged art, Ruth shared her thoughts on Jumblies' unique approach, what community-engaged art really means, and how we as an arts community can continue to work on the barriers to genuine engagement and inclusivity.

Community-Engaged Art: An Interview with Ruth Howard of Jumblies Theatre (Highlights)

Click here or scroll down to view a longer edit of this interview.

What is Jumblies?

Jumblies Theatre & Arts is a Toronto-based interdisciplinary and performing arts organization that places "participation and radical inclusion at the core of [their] projects." 

At Jumblies, people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities are invited to create various forms of art that tell stories on important, compelling or neglected themes.  The artwork is always guided by a professional artist, and the aims are for participants to develop relationships while creating high quality artwork that inspires them.

"We say 'Everyone is welcome!' and embrace the joys and challenges, social and aesthetic, of meaning or trying to mean it."

What is community-engaged art?

If there is one thing that clearly came out of this interview, it is that there is no one answer to this question! In the world of arts-based community engagement, there are a myriad of terms that people use to "try to describe what is happening." We don't yet have shared terminology, and shifting terms can sometimes cause confusion.

That being said, Ruth did set out some useful differences between audience outreach and development and community-engaged art. With outreach/development, the intention is to bring people in to see the main show. With community-engaged art, the process of working with community members, and the art work that is created as a result, is the intention. The journey is the destination.

Where to start?

Ruth and Natalie discussed the constant struggle between the kind of radical inclusion that Jumblies attempts to practice, and our economic realities (the need for paying bums in seats) faced by presenters and other organizations.

This is an ongoing challenge, but one that we want to discuss and address together. As Ruth stressed, the most important thing is the curiosity and desire to form relationships and work with your community. Sometimes you don't know how it will work out until you try.

"If you're more connected in your community, more rooted with the partners across sectors and people who live there, there's potential for different kinds of support that can compensate for what you might be losing in ticket sales."

As a presenter, if you are interested in bringing a community-engaged group like Jumblies to your venue, Ruth suggests that the most important thing is that you have rooted relationships with your community already in place. A community-engaged artist can't parachute in and form relationships in a short time. They can, however, use an arts process to build on your existing relationships.

Community-Engaged Art: An Interview with Ruth Howard, Jumblies Theatre (Full version)


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