Diaspora Dialogues Charitable Society

Diaspora Dialogues Charitable Society supports the creation and presentation of new fiction, poetry and drama that reflect the complexity of Toronto—and Canada—back to residents through the eyes of its richly diverse communities. Our focus is on the development of both artist and audience, and on working toward redefining the "mainstream" in the arts sector, ensuring it is as diverse as the country itself.

Our Impact Why We Exist

Diaspora Dialogues was lauched in 2005 to support Toronto writers and to create a lasting literature of Toronto that accurately reflects the incredible diversity this city enjoys. We aim to bridge cultures, communities and art forms. We work almost exclusively in a partnership model, meaning that our work connects many organizations and festivals with culturally diverse and Aboriginal writers and artists. We do this to expand access for programmers, audiences and the writers and artists themselves.

Toronto deserves the starring role in stories, poems and plays written by those writers who call it home. We hope that through our programs we help artists and audiences connect with each other, and that together we are building a city of experiences. 

Our Story What We Do

Since our launch, DD has engaged over 525 culturally diverse and Aboriginal writers/artists. The talent are a mix of both emerging and well-established, from literature, spoken-word poetry and theatre, and occasionally dance and music, too. They are commissioned to produce new work, participate in a robust mentoring program, a popular multidisciplinary performance series and artist-run workshops for youth in priority neighbourhoods. We also host free professional development seminars and networking events for our writers and artists.

DD has become recognized as one of the main arts organizations in Toronto; our programming partnership is eagerly sought out by Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, The Word on the Street, Keep Toronto Reading, Doors Open and City of Toronto Culture, among others.

In addition to creating collaborative opportunities for writers to connect with each other and with new audiences across cultural and disciplinary backgrounds, we work to increase the audience for the arts among Canada’s ethno-cultural communities by devoting significant effort to audience development into ethno-cultural communities. Through our activities, we help develop new networks and professional relationships between the arts community, community-based organizations and organizations serving newcomers, thus expanding community access.

Our Programs How We Do It

Diaspora Dialogues has three major programming streams. The first is a mentoring program, which pairs established writers to the most promising new voices from culturally diverse and Aboriginal communities. We also run a popular multidisciplinary reading and performance series, producing 15 to 20 events per year to capacity-filled rooms and drawing an extremely diverse audience. Lastly, we offer a program of artist-run workshops for youth in priority neighbourhoods teaching fiction, graphic novels, spoken word poetry and drama.

Long Form and Dramaturgy Mentoring Program

Diaspora Dialogues long form mentoring program runs one session per year (September - February) and offers emerging writers greater in-depth opportunity to hone their craft and ready a book-length project for publication. Through an adjudicated process, the most promising emerging writers are chosen to work with a mentor via correspondence. Our “Writer's Residencies” provide each writer with a specialized professional development program, in order to cultivate and build writing skills to create engaging material.

In addition to the long form mentorship programming, Diaspora Dialogues has also launched a dramaturgy program. In partnership with Toronto-based theatre companies, recommended playwrights are invited to apply for the opportunity to be a part of DD’s free emerging playwright’s residency. Applicants are then selected based on their submitted work and are matched with a host theatre, working with a dramaturge to develop a full-length play. The program runs for one year and at the end of the residency, in-house workshop readings will be held at each host theatre.

We invite writers and playwrights through these program to participate in our multidisciplinary reading performance series sharing their work with a wider audience. Diaspora Dialogues also provides free professional development and networking opportunities to the program participants.

Funding and Program Partners

 A portion of our operating funds from Ontario Arts Council is directed towards these activities. The Ontario Trillium Foundation provided a grant that allowed the development and pilot stages of mentoring programs, which take the form of our Writer's Residencies today. 

Program Impact

This program has facilitated the professional development of many culturally diverse and Aboriginal artists by helping them hone their craft, giving them exposure to audiences and assisting them in creating industry relationships that lead to more opportunities. It has also contributed to a growing, vibrant collection of literature of an ever-changing city, helping ensure that the lasting record of this city is as truly diverse as the people who call it home.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

  • Professional employment in arts and culture in Toronto declined slightly in 2014 to 32,970 people (excluding the self-employed).
  • Employment in cultural industries in the Region is declining dropping 2.62% between 2013 and 2014.(Toronto’s Vital Signs Report ®, 2015)

Diaspora Dialogues' Mentoring Program teaches cultural sector business skills, sales skills, and provides support to achieving professional goals in addition to artistic mentorship. 

Participant Vignette

Aaron Kreuter is an emerging poet that participated in our mentorship program in 2015. He says of his experience in the program: “Since getting my BA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Concordia University almost ten years ago, I have had a number of mentorships with established writers. What makes the Diaspora Dialogues long-form mentorship different than all of these is contained in the 'long-form' aspect of the program: where most formal programs like this allow for the drafting of one or maybe two short stories, Lauren Kirshner and I worked through all nine short stories and novella of my manuscript over the course of six months.”

Aaron's poetry collection Arguments for Lawn Chair is forthcoming from Guernica Editions in 2017.

Multidisciplinary Performance Reading Series

Diaspora Dialogues produces between 15 and 20 events every year in Toronto. These events are multidisciplinary in nature, mixing readings of poetry and fiction with spoken word performances, play readings, and sometimes music or dance. Most are held in partnership with other festivals and organizations such as the Toronto Public Library, The Word On The Street, Luminato, Doors Open Toronto, Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, Keep Toronto Reading, and others. In addition to mixing forms, our events always mix writers and artists from different communities and stages in career. This helps give exposure and networking opportunities to artists, and to introduce audiences to new forms and artists they may not have encountered or considered before.

Funding and Program Partners

The City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council has supported this program since its inception (2005). Ontario Trillium Foundation facilitated the growth of this program through a multi-year grant (2006 through 2008); Canadian Heritage (Canada Book Fund and Arts Presentation Fund) has continued their generous support yearly since 2006. The Canada Council for the Arts provided project grants in 2008, 2009 and 2010. We've also received funding for specific events through the TD Bank Fund on multiple occasions. This program is delivered in partnership with festivals (including Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, Luminato, Doors Open, The Word on the Street, WinterCity), the Toronto Public Library and other venues across the city.

Program Impact

DD has a positive impact within the arts sector. We produce a greater number of trained writers and artists from culturally diverse and Aboriginal communities who are thus able to expand the diversity in programming of other arts organizations (i.e., Readings at Harbourfront, TPL, Canadian Stage, Theatre Passe Muraille) by their involvement.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"The publication [from the Toronto Arts Foundation] tells a compelling story about the arts in Toronto. Amongst other benefits, they:

  • boost our economy - arts and culture contribute $11.3 billion annually to the city's GDP;
  • create employment - Toronto's creative workforce has grown by 34% since 2001, more than twice the rate of growth of the overall labour force; [...]
  • build bridges between cultures - 42% of Torontonians say the top impacts of the arts on communities are sharing experiences, building connections (39%), bridging differences (36%), increasing understanding between people (31%), increasing local participation (29%), and building local pride (15%)"

(Toronto’s Vital Signs Report ®, 2014)

By promoting a mix of artists and forms in all of our events, Diaspora Dialogues' multidisciplinary reading performance series reflects the city’s diversity back to its people – a major part of helping both artists and audiences feel they belong. In addition, we contribute to the employment of artists. We pay writers, poets, musicians and actors every time they read or perform publicly.

Participant Vignette

Omar Khafagy is an actor, writer, and academic who has hosted Diaspora Dialogues' multidisciplinary performance series in 2015. He describes his experience with Diaspora Dialogues:

"What Diaspora Dialogues provided me with was an opportunity to see other artists at work. Its impact on my work is difficult to identify with any degree of specificity, simply because I felt more of an observer than a participator. That’s not a bad thing: I believe that what we take in has a way of affecting our work in unexpected ways.

Perhaps in that way, I can say that being exposed to the work of others whose experiences differ so vastly from mine has opened me up to what art can do, and how it can surprise us. I was particularly struck by how many of the performers and presenters were women. In fact, unless I am mistaken, I was the only man on the stage. The topics explored by these talented women are different from what typically concerns me, and so I was caught off-guard by a a perspective that not only came cultural voices different from my own, but also from a gendered experience different from my own.

I was a stranger in a strange land, and as much as I played host, I felt very much like a guest. It was humbling and inspiring in an unexpected way."


What You Can Do

Mentoring Program

Activities a donation will support

A grant would support the engagement of established writer-mentors for the program, the commissioning of original Toronto-set works of fiction, poetry and drama that bring the city to life through the eyes of its richly diverse residents, and help with the costs associated with producing professional development sessions. Additionally, we plan to re-launch our short-form mentorship program making our mentorships more accessible to writers who are not yet ready to undertake a long form project.

Donation impact

With financial support, Diaspora Dialogues will be able to increase the number of emerging writers and mentors that we engage in our mentoring programs and performance series--which engage culturally diverse and/or Aboriginal writers to contribute to Toronto's development as a city with creativity and innovation. 

Multidisciplinary Performance Reading Series

Activities a donation will support

A grant to our Multidisciplinary Performance Reading Series would support the costs associated with producing and promoting a year-round slate of events that give forum to culturally diverse and/or Aboriginal artists. These costs include artists’ honorariums and commissions.

Donation impact

With continued and growing financial support, Diaspora Dialogues will be able to give more than 80 culturally diverse and/or Aboriginal artists the opportunity to showcase their work to new and wider audiences in Toronto around Canada. Investment will help ensure the long-term viability and vibrancy of the arts sector, and enrich the range of cultural experiences for citizens and artists. 



Helen Walsh
Charitable Number: 834484271RR0001

Finance & Governance

Annual Operating Budget: 
$ 201,187


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