Feast of Flags — Being our biggest selves, together

With a few weeks of summer ahead of us, we’re gearing up to get back into our ongoing workshops at PARC. But before we get back to our regularly scheduled programming, we’d like to share a few dispatches from our summer activities, starting with our incredibly successful and beautiful Feast of Flags on June 21.

Michelle sews up a patch for our bag lanterns

Michelle sews up a patch for our bag lanterns

Anne stitches the binding of "John Blank's Bags"

Anne stitches the binding of “John Blank’s Bags”

A bound book!

A bound book!

In the days preceding the Feast of Flags, the Making Room team worked long, hard, and normally happily. As we handbound books, decorated flags and drums, stitched together patches and bags and practiced singing, we were prepared for the big weekend ahead of us.

As the PARC drop-in opened at 11am on the 21st, the building was already abuzz with the chatter and excitement that always precedes an event at PARC, be it a party or a parade. We were coming off of Friday’s solstice happenings (the seasonal solstices have been PARC’s biggest and grandest occasion for many years), which filled the drop-in with massive collage-making, bobbing for apples and story sharing, so PARC members, staff, and guests alike were in an excellent mood. Thus we prepared our flags, drums, fabulous hats and intricate bag lanterns for the great promenade down to Budapest Park for our celebration.

Shelley La Hay and John Davy Young getting ready to lead our parade

Shelley La Hay and John Davy Young getting ready to lead our parade

Marlene and Margaret getting ready to set off.

Marlene and Margaret getting ready to set off.

At about 2pm, we began to arrange ourselves on the street in front of PARC, excitedly banging our drums, waving our flags and preparing to parade the biggest and most braggadocious iterations of ourselves.At the head of our parade were two members, both of whom have installed themselves at Making Room in amazingly generative ways over the course of the 2013-2014 season: John Davy Young and Shelley La Hay.

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Complete with our PARC dragon and an incredible lantern created by members from Edmond Place (and one carpenter extraordinaire whom we call J-Cal), we set off down Cowan street to the beat of PARC’s own Zephie and his drumming group, singing “One Love” as we snaked triumphantly down to the waterfront.

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Majid flying his flag as we arrive at the park

Majid flying his flag as we arrive at the park

Shelley and John led us through hot sun and surprisingly supportive traffic until we arrived gloriously to Budapest Park, where 50 feet of detailed, decorated banners unfurled to guide the crowd into position. Once we settled in, the paraders enjoyed a spirited performance by the Making Room Community Choir, including the debut of their original song, “Wherever I Go.”

The Making Room Choir performs

The Making Room Choir performs

After a few thank yous to our community, our friends, and our funders came the big moment, the moment we had all been waiting for— the launching ceremony for the third book in our Creation Stories series, John Blank’s bags. In a most daring and dramatic debut, one of our newest Making Room artists, Cressida Frey, swam elegantly to the far break wall of the beach to set off our book in  a bottle. Despite a few doubts and anxious moments from those of us on the beach, Cressida’s crowning bow assured us that, thanks to her, our little book had set off into the world in a truly magical fashion.

Cressida launches the book into Lake Ontario

Cressida launches the book into Lake Ontario

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Michael, Caroline and Robbie begin to distribute the books that had been hidden under the Edmond Place lantern

Michael, Caroline and Robbie begin to distribute the books that had been hidden under the Edmond Place lantern

Returning to the beach for some well deserved water, impromptu drumming, story sharing, and excited reading of our beautiful new books kept our group cheerfully busy until the much-anticipated arrival of dinner arrived. A bag-themed menu (in honour of the hero of our book, John Blank, and his iconic bags) including pierogies, cabbage rolls, vietnamese fresh rolls and chicken lettuce wraps assured that everyone rested happily full of yummy things as the park began to cool off. The food was prepared by Making Room’s resident food guy, Jonathan Valelly, and his team of PARC member and volunteer Paul Sullivan and Jumblies intern Molly McGregor, with help from Making Room artists Jess Shane and Cressida Frey.

Serious eats!

Serious eats!

Alice reads "John Blank's Bags" with a new pal!

Alice reads “John Blank’s Bags” with a new pal!

Enjoying the fire pit.

Enjoying the fire pit.

As the sun got lower, the fire pit on the beach naturally attracted a wide circle of the paraders who remained. With the fire roaring high, those early summer rituals of story swapping and singing seemed to ebb and flow organically. With a surprise snack of curry corn and banana boats cooked in the fire, our crew stayed merrily through coming of night, at which point we marveled at the half dozen bag lanterns lighting up the beach. We took turns looking intimately at the hundreds of patches, full of words, images and objects, that adorned these collectively created bags as well as stepping back and seeing them as a group, as a whole.

The bag lanterns at sunset

The bag lanterns at sunset

In those quiet moments of appreciation, it felt as though we were experiencing a microcosm of the story of Making Room Community Arts. We were all taking in the intricacies of each patch of each of our stories and personalities. These are sometimes simple, sometimes knotted up, sometimes partially obscured, and often overlapping. And yet we also couldn’t deny the immense beauty of our collective story, our joint effort, the light of our community shining out into the quiet waves of this Parkdale shore.

The few of us that remained packed up our goods and grabbed the lanterns to walk back to PARC, and an unexpected magic happened. As we slowly retreated up Cowan Avenue with our lanterns, we realized that we were having another parade— smaller, quieter, but just as resilient and just as important. Parkdale is a changing neighbourhood fraught with the tensions of poverty, hunger, safety, health in the face of gentrification and the attendant antagonism from the city and private developers. We laughed, sung, and hugged, our lanterns bobbing high above us in procession, implicitly reminding each other that this landscape, this street, these stories belong to us. And that, my friends, is a reason to celebrate.

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