Libraries to House Culture Day Once More
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Libraries to House Culture Day Once More

Forty-one branches of the Toronto Public Library will again serve as free venues for artists and cultural organizers this September.

A performance by the Spur-of-the-Moment Shakespeare Collective was one of 85 Culture Day activities that took place in Toronto's libraries last year. Photo by Christian Badanjak.

If the kids who filled the Malvern branch of the Toronto Public Library on October 1, 2011, were younger than Gita Kolanad had anticipated, they were not, she recalls, lacking in enthusiasm.

“There were a lot of little, little kids, like five years old and six years old, and we were hoping for more like 10 [-year-olds],” remembers Kolanad, a martial arts instructor. “They were hilarious, and they had a lot of fun.”

The kids had come for a workshop in the ancient Indian arts of kalaripayattu (kalari, for short) and banethi, given by six of Kolanad’s students. First, the kids watched a long series of attack and defence movements featuring some of kalari’s animal forms: the elephant position, with a stable base and a low centre of gravity; the lion position, good for swift multidirectional movement; and the horse position, from which to quickly gain ground against an opponent. Then the kids got on their feet and learned a few moves themselves.

The workshop was a part of last year’s Culture Days: a weekend’s worth of free cross-country public activities and performances, inspired by a similar annual Quebec weekend and first held in 2010.

“It’s really open to anybody,” says Culture Days’ Aubrey Reeves. “There are activities that are presented by really big, established organizations…but there are also activities presented by individual artists, community groups, volunteer-run cultural organizations, libraries, municipalities themselves, and everything, really, in between.”

Last year, the Toronto Public Library became involved, offering up 48 different branches as free venues for activities ranging from a Serbian choir rehearsal to a fashion show of traditional Tibetan dress to sprawling Shakespeare performances. In all, more than a third of Toronto’s 2011 Culture Day activities were held in libraries.

Forty-one branches are signed on again for this year, and applications from those who hope to fill those spaces are now being taken jointly by Culture Days, the library, and the Neighbourhood Arts Network.

Kolanad—who teaches through an organization called Impact that she co-founded in 2006—is hoping to return to Malvern this year, where there is plenty of space to perform kalari’s less stationary forms.

“[Malvern] has a really nice, big community room to hold the event,” Kolanad says. “When you get up and you move your body, you’re going to have a better time than if you just sit and watch.”

And getting up and moving your body in unfamiliar ways is, to some degree, what Culture Days is about.

“There are really only three requirements for a Culture Days activity,” Reeves explains. “They have to take place on the weekend of Culture Days, they have to be free and open to the public, and they’re supposed to be participatory or interactive in some way.”

Culture Days will run from Friday, September 28, to Sunday, September 30. Applications for use of a library space are due by April 30; selections are made based on practical considerations, not artistic merit.