Last year, North York Arts began their pilot program called “Evolve! Performing Arts Program.” The program provides new generation and diverse theatre and dance artists with the opportunity to develop their work using high-quality, professional theatre space, with minimal costs.

In anticipation of Evolve’s! first workshop performance happening this month, I interviewed Melissa Foster, North York Arts’ Program and Outreach Director, who led the team in developing the program.

Tell me a bit about yourself and you career in community arts.
I have always had a love for the arts – especially theatre. This led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in Theatre Studies. After receiving my B.A., I switched gears and started working in the social service sector. Throughout my 10 year career I continued to run and facilitate arts programs for community members both abroad and within Toronto. Eventually, I decided to formally combine my passions; I completed a certificate in Community Arts Practice from York University, as well as a post-grad diploma in Arts Management from Western University.

I have been at North York Arts since 2014 and during my time here I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with so many talented and dedicated local artists, community builders and service providers to grow the arts sector and engage all North York residents in the arts.  

Why did North York Arts develop Evolve?
After working with so many artists and arts organizations over the years, it’s become apparent that there is a need for affordable and professional artistic space in the city. Thanks to our long-standing partnership with Toronto Centre for the Arts (TCA), one of Toronto’s three civic theatres, we were able to create Evolve! to help address these gaps in resources.

Specifically Evolve! is for performing artists in Toronto who are still in the developmental stages of their work. Artists receive access to the TCA’s “black box” Studio Theatre. Ultimately, the goal of the program is to help support the capacity of the theatre and dance community.

Why do you think it’s important that artists have access to high-quality space?
We live in a society that is results driven and we don’t pay a lot of attention to the process – but art is a process.  A compelling story takes time to develop, and the collaborative nature of the performing arts requires a home – one that meets the unique needs of the performing arts. It’s these unique needs of theatre and dance that make access to space so difficult. The ability to access space at no-cost, that is equipped with all the things you need to develop your story is rare, especially for new-generation artists.

What can we expect from Evolve’s first workshop performance?
Evolve’s first workshop performance is called EARTH; the show is presented in partnership with two Toronto dance organizations, Dance Immersion and Artists in Motion (AIM) Dace Company.

Dance Immersion is a not-for-profit organization that produces, promotes and supports dancers and dances of the African Diaspora. Last year, Dance Immersion did an open call for artists and collectives who were interested in participating in Evolve!. AIM Dance Company, run by artistic director and choreographer Shameka Blake, was selected. As Shameka puts it “EARTH is a creation story. Exploring Earth, a ‘Mother Goddess’ who rules all people and gives birth to new generations of all beings.”

You can catch EARTH, a work-in-progress presentation, Feb 27th – 28th at 8pm at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5400 Yonge Street, North York. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at the Box Office.

Interview by: Rachel Birnberg

Development and Communications Coordinator