A Community Project Partnering Oakwood Collegiate Institute (Toronto District School Board) and the Multicultural History Society of Ontario Funded by the Toronto Community Foundation

May 2001

This is the first phase of a three year project to explore the meaning of neighbourhood, community and place with students and teachers at Oakwood Collegiate Institute, assisted by museum community cultural workers representing the Multicultural History Society of Ontario.

The intent was to build a cultural expression of community from the curriculum-based class work from four departments at Oakwood. The results of our work - that signify students’ views on the topics of place, people and things - are the Seeing Our Surroundings (SOS) exhibition, with plans for a web site and publication to come. The poetry, photos, interviews and artifacts have provided a rich source of evidence and insight for the task of "seeing our surroundings" through the eyes of contemporary Toronto high school students.
This project is an exploration of "participatory museology", by which the community, in this case the students and to some extent the teachers, have become partners in the creation of the exhibit. The project was coordinated by Francie Maroosis, Assistant Head, Co-op Education, Oakwood, and Lynne Teather from the MHSO. Around 110 students were involved including:

  • 62 Grade 10 Civics students from four classes who produced the interviews and artifacts and photos

  • 15 grade 11 + 12 Art students who helped produce photographs of the neighbourhood and of Toronto

  • 27 students from OAC Writer’s Caft who produced poetry inspired by the themes

  • 1 very special Co-op student who participated as a project assistant.
  • To assist students, there were in-class workshops. The project began as Lynne Teather presented a session to the Civics classes last November on museums and artifacts, and how to look beyond the walls of formal museums. Two poets, Bill Bisset and Paul Dutton, gave workshops with the Writer’s Craft class, and in senior Art classes, artist Amy Satterthwaite taught a selection of students about photography.

    The exhibit, created by Lynne Teather and with assistance from Amy Satterthwaite, is composed of materials gathered from the participating students. In a sense then, the SOS exhibition has been co-curated by over 100 people: Lynne, Amy, 110 high school students, and teachers and citizens.

    Working with so many individuals’ contributions has been both extremely rich and inspirational, but also challenging. How do we create an exhibition, and thus story, from the work of 110 people, without taking over their voices? We have attempted to provide a framework, a stage for the students’ views, but undoubtedly have layered in our own constructions of significance. But then, all exhibits are constructions, and central to the meaning of any exhibit are the viewers.