Jumblies Theatre

Jumblies makes art in everyday and unexpected places, with, for and about the people and stories found there.

Our Impact Why We Exist

Jumblies Theatre

Our art weaves into and grows out of life’s details and rituals, and our community is open-ended and based on people doing something together. We dismantle boundaries and connect disparate elements. We create an interplay of imaginary and real time; of virtuosity and inclusion; performer, participant and audience; story and history; installation and performance; activism and art; ''high'' and ''popular'' art; art and life. We create fleeting utopias with lasting ripples. We say, everyone is welcome, and grapple with the implications – aesthetic and social – of meaning it.

Over the past 15 years, Jumblies has advanced community arts practice through intertwining strands of activity: Jumblies Projects, creating new art works stemming from multi-year residencies; the Jumblies Studio, for learning, mentorship and creative research; Jumblies Offshoots, maintaining relationships with the city-wide organizations that we launched through our residencies; and Jumblies At Large, developing partnerships and collaborations to infiltrate the values and practices of community-engaged arts into the cultural mainstream. All of this we consider our art. Our large-scale events are part of the process. Our ultimate products are the transformational relationships, experiences, transient utopias and lasting ripples created by our work. 

Our Story What We Do

Jumblies Theatre History and Accomplishments

In 1990, Ruth Howard encountered the British Community Play, as imported to Canada by Dale Hamilton, a form that combines theatre on an epic scale, a philosophy of wholehearted social inclusion, and an astonishing capacity for social change. After producing a range of community arts projects, Ruth founded Jumblies in 2001. We have since embarked on multi-year community arts residencies in Davenport West, Central Etobicoke, and with the Camp Naivelt community. We are currently in the fourth year of our Community Arts Guild residency in East Scarborough.

In 2006, in response to growing demand for hands-on learning opportunities, Jumblies launched the Jumblies Studio: an integrated strand of the company that includes courses, workshops, internships/apprenticeships, publications, consultancy and special projects. The goals of the Studio are to develop and promote the community arts practice in Canada; help artists to combine their own expertise and passions with processes of meaningful social inclusion and transformation; nurture new leadership and propagate new initiatives with their own ripple-effects; and establish sustainable local and cross-country connections that will support continued learning, sharing and collaboration.  We now provide the Studio’s professional development services nation-wide; adapting and piloting the related approaches, curriculum and resources to respond to cultural and regional differences, interests and needs.

Jumblies is proud of the Offshoot organizations that have emerged from our residencies: Arts4All in Davenport West, MABELLEarts in Central Etobicoke, the Community Arts Guild in East Scarborogh, and our honourary Offshoot, Making Room Community Arts in Parkdale.  Led by former Jumblies Studio interns, they are distinct, dynamic community arts ventures. 

As of January 2014, Jumblies settled into a new downtown Toronto home base, The Ground Floor, in a Toronto Community Housing complex, in the midst of the newly developing CityPlace.  Since moving here, we have focused on explorations of Toronto's buried, layered and Indigenous histories, in a multi-layered overall initiative we call Touching Ground - involving hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds. This project has generated a wealth of new relationships, knowledge, understanding, creative material and enthusiasm for more.

As well, in Spring 2015, we produced Train of Thought, a national tour, promoting (re)conciliation through community arts, involving 7 weeks, 75 travelling artists, 25 stops, 95 partners and hundreds of diverse participants.

Accolades and Accomplishments

Jumblies has received many awards and distinctions for our work. We received the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Great Grants award in Arts and Culture in 2008, and, in March 2012, the same award at a provincial level for the Jumblies Studio. Our Artistic Director Ruth Howard received in 2012 an Urban Leadership Award (City Soul) from the Canadian Urban Institute and the George Luscombe Award for Mentorship (a Dora Mavor Moore award), and was shortlisted in 2015 for the Toronto Arts Foundation’s Rita Davies and Martha Bindhardt Award for cultural leadership.

Jumblies maintains strong relationships with a wide range of artists and arts organizations representing a variety of cultural traditions, and with other sectors such as social and health services, urban development, and education. We play a leadership role at local, regional, national and international levels through our projects, productions, mentorship practice, cross-sector networks and ongoing exchanges and consultancy with professional colleagues and companies. 

Our Programs How We Do It

Touching Ground & Talking Treaties

Touching Ground is a community arts initiative exploring and expressing Toronto’s indigenous, buried and layered histories - from pre-colonial lake to high-rise towers - through varied accessible and enjoyable art activities. This project has been our central focus since moving into our downtown home base (The Ground Floor) in 2013). Since then we have generated a wealth of new relationships, knowledge, understanding, creative material and enthusiasm among community members and project partners to continue this exciting work. 

From October 2016 through April 2017, we will bring together artists and community members  - indigenous, immigrant, settler descent, newcomer and refugee – to engage in the Touching Ground Festival.  This will be the culmination of over 3 years of work by Jumblies city-wide and at CityPlace to learn about and share Toronto's Indigenous, buried and layered histories, infusing the present with knowledge of the past and vision for the future. Touching Ground themes encompass pre-colonial to contemporary history, geography, first peoples, global migrations, settlers and refugees - paying attention to what the place we live in holds through perception, memory, history and imagination. These themes will weave through a suite of original multi- and inter-disciplinary art works: interactive evolving galleries, audio walking tours, musical and choreographic performances, site-specific performances, publications and video screenings.

The production activities will be based at Jumblies' downtown home, The Ground Floor, with outreach workshops and presentational venues spreading into other locations, including local and city-wide cross-sector and cultural partner sites. This process will include the following activities:

  • Initial creative and production work, outreach activities and introductory workshops (Oct. to Dec. 2016);
  • Regular weekly workshops for all ages and abilities at The Ground Floor, including choir, multi-arts drop-in, dance and movement, theatre (Jan. to March 2017);
  • Offsite workshops with local and city-wide partners to increase diversity and inclusion (Nov. 2016 to March 2017);
  • Intensive period of preparation and rehearsals (late-March to early-May 2017);
  • Presentations and performances (May, June 2017);
  • National community arts symposium/gathering, sharing practices among youth and emerging, culturally diverse and Aboriginal arts/cultural leaders (late June 2017); and
  • Final celebration, evaluation and next-steps planning (late June 2017). 

New works to be developed and presented, and some of the creators involved, include:

  • Underneath the Concrete, a choral work for community singers and professional musicians and singers, composed by Martin van de Ven with Cree traditional singer Rosary Spence, text assembled by Ruth Howard from community members’ words, news-clips, the text of Treaty 13 (the Toronto Purchase) and a poem by Victoria Freeman.
  • Talking Treaties Pageant, the culmination of a multi-year project in partnership with First Story Toronto, with Ange Loft (Jumblies Associate Artistic Director and Theatre Artist of Mohawk descent) in the lead, including archival and oral history research and interactive performance and installations, and an outdoor giant puppet pageant at Historic Fort York, for National Aboriginal Day 2017.
  • Touching Ground Sounds, in partnership with Continuum Contemporary Music: a site-specific mobile work for chamber ensemble and community voices and soundscape, composed by Norbert Palej, and performed in the Kiln Rooms of the Evergreen Brickworks.
  • On Tuesdays, a musical site-specific audio tour, composed by Kyle Brenders, with community-generated text assembled by Ange Loft, and recording of live performances by Making Room Choir (Parkdale community members), two contemporary opera singers and three jazz musicians.
  • The View From Here, a short operatic comic film (literally based on comics created by community members and visual artist Miranda Sharp), composed by Norbert Palej, libretto by Liz Rucker and film direction by Sofia Bohdanowicz.
  • What Was My Backyard, a short participatory musical theatre piece for children and all ages, including a dancing mastodon, composed by Britta Johnson.
  • Soft City-Place, a baby and child-friendly fabric arts zone for play and performance, fancifully replicating the neighbourhood, from buried Lake Ontario to condo towers.
  • Site-Specific Choreography – a series of commissioned short new works for community performers, with choreographers Penny Couchie, Lilia Leon and Brian Solomon, with original music by Juliet Palmer, Brandon Valdivia, and others artists and partners tbd.

The entire project will be guided by an intercultural multi-age, multi-disciplinary team of artists, facilitators, historians and elders with strong skills in inclusive community-engagement and arts and cultural traditions.

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


  • The city of Toronto became home to 216,520 new residents from all over the world between 2006 and 2011.
  • In 2011, 51% of Toronto residents were born outside of Canada, and one in 12 had arrived in the country in the previous five years. One-third of the total population of immigrants in Toronto had arrived in Canada within the previous 10 years. Toronto has more than twice the proportion of recent immigrants as Canada (8.4% compared to 3.5% nationally).
  • 14% of Toronto residents don’t yet hold Canadian citizenship (compared to 6% for all of Canada).

Arts & Culture

  • 69% of Torontonians appreciate the contribution that local artists make to the city and 43% reported they would like to get more involved in the arts in Toronto.

  • The overwhelming majority of Torontonians (97%) see at least one benefit that the arts provide to the city, such as: attracting tourists, 79%; making the city a better place to live, 63%; creating employment, 59%; and attracting people to move here, 33%.

  • 89% of Torontonians see at least one benefit that the arts provide to themselves. 66%, for example, report that the arts expose them to new ideas, and 46% say they make them feel proud of their city.

Particpant Vinettes

Following are quotes from current participants at The Ground Floor, who will take part in the Touching Ground Festival and Talking Treaties activities.  

“I was crazy before… nothing to do, just sitting at home and being bored and feeling sorry for yourself.”

“I didn’t know my neighbours…I met my neighbours [at Jumblies].”

“I’m a single mom and there is not much help when you’re an immigrant… you are by yourself. It’s good to go out and meet other women who have similar problems.”

“It is a tremendous unifying force across class and income barriers.”

“I really like all that we are doing to honour First Nations history and making it alive right now.”

“I’ve been learning about the land...It’s valuable and I keep being reminded of it.”

The Jumblies Studio Internship & Mentoring Program

Based in Toronto with a national reach, the Jumblies Studio is a full-time, flexible, integrated and itinerant program for learning, mentorship and exploration in Arts that engage with and create Community. The Studio’s goals are to develop and promote the community arts field in Canada; help artists on their paths to combining their own expertise and passions with processes of meaningful social inclusion and transformation; nurture new leadership and propagate new initiatives with their own ripple-effects; and establish sustainable cross-cultural, national connections that will support continued learning, sharing and collaboration. The Jumblies Studio offers an objective-based and self-directed pedagogy that is both rigorous and nurturing; roots theory in practical experience; welcomes all disciplines and traditions; tends towards interdisciplinarity and hybridity; engenders idiosyncratic artistic visions and practice; is embedded in all of our active community arts projects; and equips artists with the know-how to survive outside the established and specialized arts world.

The program is based in mentorship and apprenticeship, with workshops and seminars to introduce and explore core concepts. We blend hands-on and immersive art-making and exploration with reflection, critical and evaluative discourse; are flexible in planning and adapting to individual and evolving needs and interests; and embrace varied cultural traditions and hybrid forms and collaborations.  Jumblies Studio inventory of workshops includes the Artfare All Essentials course, delivered at least once per year in Toronto, and in other regions of Canada, with a curriculum that builds knowledge and skills about the principles and practices of community arts: project development, arts-based research, group facilitation, documentation and evaluation, aesthetics and ethics, creative process, managing conflict and challenges, and working with diversity (of culture, age, ability); and Advanced Artfare workshops, designed in response to desires for more in-depth exploration of specific topics (e.g. Oral History and Performance, Project Development, Cross-cultural Collaboration, Directing and Choreography with Diverse Communities). The Studio also delivers a range of creative and administrative-based public seminars and workshops.

Youth internships are a key component of the Jumblies' Studio, and since its inception, we have provided paid internships for over 60 young aspiring artists and cultural leaders, lasting from a few months to several years.  We make efforts to offer interneships to diverse emerging artists who face barriers to pursuing careers in the arts due to challenges related to education, income, ethnicity, language, culture, sexual orientation, gender identification, and physical and mental health. 

Jumblies interns are immersed in the core values and collaborative practices of community arts practice.  They learn to navigate the complexities of social, political, and economic contexts that impact community participation and cultural expression, including inequities of power and wealth, differing cultural perspectives and legacies of colonialism. They are encouraged to build on their own artistic strengths, traditions, backgrounds and motivations to create distinctive styles, supported by guiding principles and core skills. They are immersed in active projects of Jumblies and partners and take on increasing leadership to suit their learning goals. Their achievements are celebrated regularly in public presentations.  Many former interns have become leaders in our own and Jumblies Offshoot companies. Others avail themselves of ongoing guidance as they establish their own practices and organizations, several of which are by now impactful and flourishing concerns. Others have gone on to assume key positions with other organizations, and many of these now serve as learning grounds for new interns.   

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


  • After dropping to 18.12% in 2013, the Toronto youth unemployment rate in 2014 climbed again, reaching a staggering 65%.
  • About 10% of youth ages 15-24 in the GTHA, or as many as 83,000 people, were Not in Education, Employment or Training (or NEET, a Statistics Canada category) in 2011.
  • Many groups are over-represented in this category, including racialized and newcomer youth, aboriginal youth, youth living in poverty or in conflict with the law, youth in and leaving care, LGBTQ* youth, and youth with disabilities and special needs.
  • Through extensive consultations with youth on the subject, CivicAction produced a 2014 report that identified common barriers facing this group of youth as well as opportunities to help close the gap between youth who are NEET and those who aren’t. Four common barriers identified as facing NEET youth were:
    • systemic barriers that lead to weakened social networks, such as few mentors or role models;
    • lack of opportunities to gain meaningful work-related experience;
    • lack of accessible and affordable transportation; and
    • racism and structural discrimination.

Participant Vignette

As an emerging community artist in rural Northern Ontario (algoma Region), and Founder of Thinking Rock Community Arts, Jumblies Theatre has been nothing short of transformative in my own life, as well as for my community.  I have learned from Jumblies Theatre through training, mentorship, and guidance - offered at all hours of the night with unflagging consistency and encouragement - how much courage, perseverance, humility, respect, and integrity it takes to do this work.  To be willingly positioned directly in the middle of communities with all their strengths, resilience, beauty, stories, misunderstandings, traumatic histories, diverse and often conflicting worldviews, personalities, cultures, and realities.  To navigate this fraught territory armed with kindness, humility, deep listening, respect, tea, food, art making and facilitation skills, training and materials, and a desire to hear all stories and privilege none.  To make room in this complexity for the emergence of simple friendships.  To allow amidst this chaos for the co-creation of new narratives through beautiful works of art.  To understand that the process of co-creating art with communities will always be difficult, emergent, joyful and hopeful…and that these paradoxes make the work so immediate, so necessary, so important.  Jumblies’ work has not only effected my life, but the community where I live and work.  With our network of emerging Settler and Indigenous artists, we are continuing to learn together from and with Jumblies about how to work toward reconciliation efforts on a local level in our rural towns and reserves by developing a community play that uncovers and honours the diverse stories and histories of this place.  

- Robin Sutherland, Artistic Dirctor, Thinking Rock Community Arts

Working with Jumblies, and being part of Artfare Essentials, has provided an exciting opportunity to really develop my facilitation skills and offered first hand experience in engaging entire communities in our work as professional artists. This in turn gave me a sense of how I can be part of fostering a return to professional art making in the everyday lives within my own community; arts that are fully integrated within our economic, political, social and cultural lives. My childhood was spent living in remote communities of Canada. Community arts were fully integrated within the community gatherings, events and celebrations. Art happened anytime, everywhere and with everyone. I then spent fifteen years living, studying and working in Toronto, at times engaging in community arts, but largely working with other professional artists. Although I had worked within communities in the past, I had not experienced the level of commitment to inclusiveness and professional artistic production that Jumblies rises to. When I walked into my first workshop with Jumblies and saw the multi-generations, diversity of culture and experiences, people that identified as artists and those that did not but still had a strong need and want to participate, I was elated. It was both familiar and exciting for me and I saw the opportunity to bring forward my unique childhood experience and my skills as a professional artist.

- Penny Couchie, Artistic Director, Aanmitaagzi

Through my Jumblies internship, I found a place where values important to me are at the heart of the work. I came to Jumblies, after graduating from theatre school and teaching theatre to youth. I had a strong desire to include everyone, even the most challenging of the kids that I met, and often struggled to find a way to do that. I have met people from every corner of the world, learned words of their languages, directed them in performances, tried dance steps and marveled at their different traditions; I’ve been in groups of people that would never have otherwise come together – old, young, new to Canada, new to art, with mental, physical and emotional challenges, homeless people, community leaders, the ambivalent and the enthusiastic. One of many highlights has been working with Tamil seniors, who told so many stories of their lives – stories of war, love, friendship and nature. I would teach them an acting game and they would teach me a folkdance.  When it came time to perform, they gave me a beautiful sari to wear and insisted that I dance with them. I was overwhelmed by their warmth and enthusiasm. Here is some of their feedback: “This is a precious time for seniors to enjoy this program. We recollect our childhood also; We are inside the apartment and lonely, so this is a very important program; We are aching for this program.”

- Beth Helmers, Artistic Director of the Community Arts Guild

What You Can Do

Touching Ground & Talking Treaties

Activities a donation will support

Funding received in 2016 and 2017 will support one or more of the following:

  • Arts and theatre workshop and event costs related to presenting participatory performances (e.g. props, puppets, sound, workshop facilitators), that includes several hundred community members and several dozen artists in design, making and performing.
  • Multi Arts Creators and Facilitators will ensure meaninful particpation for hundreds of diverse community members. 
  • Sustainability planning and implementation – harnessing the momentum created by the residency project to establish a lasting legacy of community arts capacity in the neighbourhood.

Donation impact

With the following investments, Jumblies Theatre will bring together culturally diverse residents, including those who face barriers to participating in community life, in creating art that celebrates East Scarborough’s people and stories.

  • $3,000 will be applied to production art and technical supplies and materials.
  • $7,000 will allow us to assemble and maintain Multi Arts Creators and Facilitators, who co-create new works with, for and about diverse community members.
  • $6,000 will allow editing documentary/promotional materials in support of sustainability.

Additional funds of any amount will support sustainability planning and implementation.

Jumblies Studio Internship & Mentoring Program

Activities a donation will support

Funding contributions will ensure our ability to host interns and mentor emerging artists and arts administrators who will further the sustainability of community-engaged art initiatives and projects, while significant support will help us develop capacity to deliver internships on a Canada-wide basis.

Donation impact

Investments will support internships for artists, community workers and administrators who will become equipped to generate and support community-engaged arts activities with community members that face barriers to full participation in community life:

  • $2,000 will support mentoring of an intern by a lead artist at one of Jumblies project and/or Offshoot sites;
  • $6,000 will provide living expenses for one artist to intern with Jumblies for 4 to 6 months;
  • $25,000 will support a year long, full time advanced internship; and
  • investments of $100,000+ will enable us to maintain core staff and resources to operate the Jumblies Studio for one year.


Ruth Howard
Artistic Director
Charitable Number: 878821610RR0001

Finance & Governance


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