Jumblies Theatre was founded in 2001 to create socially engaged art projects and performances “with, for and about the people and stories” in the immigrant and low-income communities of Toronto. But the company’s roots go back more than a decade to founder Ruth Howard’s introduction to the British concept of “community play”—highly visual, activist theatre on an epic scale. Beginning as a costume designer, Howard would go on to design other community plays across Canada and Britain before producing her own art projects and launching Jumblies. Today, just as its activities go beyond producing community plays, Jumblies’ impact has moved beyond its home base to touch people—practitioners, marginalized people, artists and audiences alike—all across Canada.
Jumblies projects—multi-year residencies resulting in new interdisciplinary, cross-cultural and participatory artworks—are the core of its practice. As part of this work and with support from the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, Jumblies began delivering art programs that promote social inclusion of marginalized individuals in Ontario and British Columbia in 2006. In one project that unfolded over four years, for example, 400 community members participated in 75 workshops and rehearsals to re-imagine Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.” Culminating in 2012, their “Like an Old Tale,” which included an interactive installation, puppets, masks, stilt walking, dance, and music, received 12 performances before 1,400 audience members who participated by reading, serving bread, and joining in the final dance.
Jumblies’ commitment to disseminating its model by training and mentoring practitioners in communities across Canada is strong. By 2006, Jumblies Studio was providing courses, seminars, internships, and research and consulting services to communities and artists committed to a community-based practice. In 2012, McConnell made a three-year $320,000 grant to expand its mentoring of artists and new community leadership, conduct and train others in arts-based planning and evaluation, and build national and regional collaborations in 15 rural and urban areas across Canada.
Over time, a number of other ventures, some spun off to independence and some still operating under the Jumblies banner, have grown from Ruth Howard’s early dedication to community-embedded art. For example, Making Room, a community arts space—operates independently within a Toronto recreation center holding regular arts drop-ins that lead to large-scale celebrations and ceremonies.
According to its 2011/12 annual report, the company’s workshops and consulting, contracts and box office revenues account for about 12% of its $640,000 annual budget. Remaining revenues come from in-kind donations, individual gifts and a number of public and private funders. Government funders include the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario and Toronto Arts Councils, the Toronto Community Housing Social Investment Fund, and Citizenship and Immigration Canada. In addition to the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, recent private supporters include the Toronto Community Foundation, George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation, and Alterna Savings.