Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Inspired By...Map

As part of my research into how people are using geoweb technologies, I've been interviewing users and developers of digital media applications related to place. While searching for innovative projects along this line, I found out about an arts association near where I live who had created an amazing online community mapping project.

The project, Inspired By...Map, was created by East End Arts as a way to capture the arts and oral histories of the people living and visiting in Toronto's east end. Soliciting contributions from people connected to the neighbourhood, they have created an online, interactive map of people's meaningful places. Through a variety of modalities (images, text, and videos) people's stories and creations are put on the map of Toronto.

A map of Toronto's east end, with icons indicating areas where content has been geotagged. A caption reads Inspired By, how does the space we travel through inspire us? These are stories from the east end of Toronto, start exploring.

I had the chance to ask Tanya Oleksuik and Cindy Rozeboom some questions about their impressive project.

Glen: What motivated you to develop the Inspired By...Map?

Tanya & Cindy:
In 2014, East End Arts was only a year old and developing our organizational sense of self. As a Local Arts Service Organization, we are mandated to provide support for a specific geographic area of Toronto.

We were wondering what, if anything, actually unifies the people within this area, given that the communities are, as with all of Toronto, diverse and constantly changing. Unable to come to any conclusions about who east-enders were, we decided to examine where.  If the people are different, but the place is the same – what then? Inspired By was sparked by wondering how the actual physical spaces that we share impact and/or inspire those who pass through them.

Inspired By was made possible by a grant from the Ontario Cultural Development Fund.

Glen: What efforts have you taken to get community involvement in creating the content for Inspired By...Map?

Tanya & Cindy:
We have held both facilitated workshops with community groups, as well as have an ongoing open-call for submissions online.

Community workshops have been led by Community Story Strategies and, so far, have included a job-seeking club at Riverdale Hub, a recycled fashion collective at the Newcomer Women’s Service, a summer camp of children at Community Centre 55, and an open public session that toured the Winter Stations in 2015.

Local kids working on their creations for the Inspired By...Map
Each workshop starts with a group photo-taking walk around an area, followed by a writing session where participants choose one image and react to it – either in writing or verbally.

Glen: What has the response been to the project?

Tanya &; Cindy:
The response has been really positive and heartwarming. Everyone has a personal story behind their favourite spots in the city, and most love to share those stories with others. Each story shared adds a new layer to the map of inspired places.

We held an Inspired By viewing party in 2015 and a room full of people listened, watched, learned, and laughed along with the wide range of stops along the map. With a range of creative expressions in the submissions, the audience was taken through visual, written, and audio stories of reminiscence, longing, love, and joy, all inspired by East End places. The evening continued with the sharing of even more stories, including people adding their own layers of memory, history, and experience to the places marked on the map.

Glen: In terms of the content people have created has there been anything surprising?

Tanya & Cindy:
Interestingly, many of the submissions involve memories – the image of what IS brought back thoughts of what WAS. It is also interesting to see the differences in tone and interpretation of seemingly unrelated objects – an excited child remembering hockey practice with their dad looking at a fence, speculations on social change drawn from a crack in the pavement. It makes one wonder how much we “see” with our eyes, and how much is brought to any picture from our own individual storehouse of experiences and expectations.

People are inspired by so many different and unique things. The stories people share about what makes a place special to them reminds us that inspiration can be found in unexpected places and are beautifully unique in meaning to individuals.

Glen: How do you think this map will have people consider or reconsider Toronto's East End?

Tanya & Cindy:
The map is still a work-in-progress, so it will be interesting to see how neighbourhood changes will be reflected. Someone may have mapped a spot that in a couple years’ time may be transformed into something completely different. The map allows people to mark a place and time and capture a memory or moment.

Glen: Is there anything else you'd like to add or that people should know about this project?

Tanya & Cindy:
We'd love for the map to continue to expand. Anyone who lives, works, and moves through the east end is invited to contribute to the project and help it grow, one place at a time.

This project is not only a really interesting and imaginative glimpse into the places and stories of east end Toronto, but also a model for others regardless of their location. This project is a great example of how to use community mapping efforts and geoweb technologies to capture and share something meaningful to people.

Whether you live in Toronto or not, I highly recommend getting inspired by Inspired By...Map.

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